You really do have to take your hat off to Tyrrell Hatton. His recent run in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is quite incredible. The Englishman was a combined 47-under-par in becoming the first player to win the European Tour pro-am back-to-back over the last two years. He’s now gunning for a title hat-trick. On eight-under at the halfway stage, Hatton is just one off the lead, held jointly by Dane Lucas Bjerregaard and Italy’s Andrea Pavan.
“It seems I either miss the cut in this event – or win it!” said a happy Hatton, referring to the fact he didn’t make it to the final round on his first two appearances.
This year, he is very much in contention after adding a six-under-par 66 at Carnoustie to his opening 70 at Kingbarns. “The first two years playing here were difficult, but now obviously I’ve got good memories coming back here. It’s been a good couple of days.”
He’d have preferred, of course, if his first round on Thursday hadn’t been overshadowed by him hitting a spectator with a wayward shot, leaving her requiring stitches in a gash on her forehead. “That’s not something you can forget about. It’s in the back of your mind,” admitted Hatton of an unfortunate incident that came hot on the heels of a spectator at the Ryder Cup in France last week fearing she has lost the sight in her right eye after being hit by Brooks Koepka’s ball.
“It was a tough day yesterday, but I spoke to her on the phone last night to make sure she was okay,” Hatton said. “Obviously I’m very thankful that she was. She was discharged from hospital and got home. I actually think she was going to Kingsbarns today to watch some more golf. And she’s going to be at St Andrews tomorrow, so I will see her then.”
On a day when Carnoustie was tame in comparison to Thursday – when a four-under 68 from Australian Marcus Fraser in a strong wind really was a hell of an effort – Hatton illuminated a bogey-free round with an eagle-3 at the 14th, where a “choked down” 9-iron from 170 yards was dispatched to six feet. “It was a good day today – and we got lucky playing Carnoustie on a pretty calm day,” admitted the 26-year-old Englishman, who is brimming with confidence after his winning Ryder Cup debut in Paris.
Not since Ernie Els did the trick in the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne from 2002-04 has a regular European Tour event fallen to the same player three years in a row. If he can deliver another good round at St Andrews, where he shot a 62 two years ago, then that Hatton hat-trick could be on the cards on Sunday.
Bjerregaard, pictured left, a 27-year-old from Aalborg, moved to the top of the leaderboard on the back of a 65 at Kingsbarns, where Pavan, winner of the Czech Masters in August, fired a 63 later in the day to join him. If Bjerregaard could follow up his breakthrough success in the Portugal Masters last year it would make it a week to remember for Danish golf after Thomas Bjorn became a winning Ryder Cup captain and Thorbjorn Olesen beat three-time major winner Jordan Spieth in the singles to help pull off that resounding victory at Le Golf National. “Thorbjorn’s win over Spieth was great,” said Bjerregaard, who is sitting a lofty 25th in this season’s Race to Dubai. “I was there on Saturday and he was a little upset he didn’t play on Saturday, but I was so happy for him to finish the Ryder Cup off like that in his first one. I was definitely inspired and motivated by that.”
Olesen, of course, triumphed in this event three years ago. “It would mean a lot to win here as well,” admitted Bjerregaard, “but there’s a lot of golf to be played before that. It’s one of the most prestigious events we have. But I’ve got to get past Carnoustie [where he plays his third round] and St Andrews again first.”
In his first competitive round on the Old Course, Austrian Matthias Schwab carded a five-under 67 to sit alongside Hatton, as well as Fraser after he signed for another 68, this time at St Andrews. At one point, Schwab, a 23-year-old rookie, held the outright lead. With compatriot Sepp Straka sitting at the top of the leaderboard in the Safeway Open, the first event of the new PGA Tour season, after the first round in California, it was an historic moment.
“It is a nice thing to achieve,” said Schwab, who lost to Irishman Alan Dunbar in the 2012 Amateur Championship final at Royal Troon. “I knew that Sepp, who I have known for a long time, had shot a good score as I keep up with what he is doing. I think Austrian golf is definitely trending in the right way.”
Lurking ominously at Carnoustie, just three shots off the lead after a 67 – four shots more than his record-breaking effort on the corresponding day 12 months ago – is Hatton’s Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood. Stephen Gallacher, the 2004 winner, is also handily placed on five-under after a 68 at the Angus venue.