BIRTHDAY CHEERS ON THE OLD COURSE FOR ALFRED DUNHILL LINKS CHAMPION DANNY WILLETT
ST ANDREWS, October 3, 2021 - The champagne corks popped as Danny Willett celebrated his 34th birthday with one of the biggest wins of his career, the 20th Anniversary Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The former Masters and Alfred Dunhill Team champion, most recently winner of the 2019 BMW PGA, shot a 68 on the Old Course for an 18-under-par total to win by two from Joakim Lagergren, who had a 66 and Tyrrell Hatton, 67.
He narrowly missed making it a spectacular double celebration with victory in the Team Championship with American amateur partner Jimmy Dunne, when his final putt slipped by the hole. The Irish team of Michael Hoey and Maeve Danaher, the first female to win the title, held on for a memorable triumph.
Danny said: “It's been a good week. I had a great partner in Jimmy. Things have been good. I've always said if I get a bit of a sniff, I'm usually all right. And today was a nice example of that. Scoring was pretty low on that front nine, and we were able to fend off a few guys and play really solidly on the back nine.
“Jimmy is a great guy. He's a great golfer. And we just had a great week, seeing all the guys. I haven't done this format for two years now. So, it's nice that the Championship is back on, and it's lovely. It’s a big one.
“It's been a relatively average year till this. Fingers crossed now we've got six or seven events left till we put the clubs down at Christmas, so hopefully we can push on a bit from this,” he added.
Willett’s was a mature performance. Starting the day three ahead, he did not panic early on when the birdies did not come and challengers lined up to try to catch him, most noticeably Richard Bland who was level with him when he birdied the 9th hole.
But Willett struck crucial birdies of his own at the 9th and 10th to maintain his control of the Championship and by the time he reached the decisive last few holes, only Sweden’s Lagergren was in a position to catch him.
Lagergren, however, could not find the birdies he needed to put pressure on Willett, who maintained the calm approach that had been such a feature of his day, with pars on the last eight holes.
It was his eighth European Tour victory, and he wins a first prize of £578,000 (US$783,000). He is the seventh English winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links, joining Lee Westwood (2003), Nick Dougherty (2007), Simon Dyson (2009), David Howell (2013), Oliver Wilson (2014) and Tyrrell Hatton (2016 and 17).
Maeve Danaher, a left-hander who putts right-handed, has a 22 handicap and plays most of her golf at Adare Manor in County Limerick, the host course for the 2027 Ryder Cup. She is from the Republic of Ireland while Hoey, the Alfred Dunhill Links winner in 2011, is from Northern Ireland.
For Danaher the sweetest part about the win was that she beat her husband, Gerry McManus, who had also qualified for the Championship’s final day in partnership with 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry.
It also continued a remarkable family run of success in this event, with Gerry’s brother JP McManus a two-time team competition winner in 2002 and 2006 and JP’s son, Kieran McManus, the holder of a record three team titles in 2009, 2014 and 2017.
Gerry McManus and his fellow Irishman Lowry finished in equal fifth place with a four-round team score of 32-under-par and Danaher said: “Gerry and I had a little bet on the first day to see who could get the best score, so I’ve won that! And that’s really pleasing!
“But it is absolutely amazing to win this competition, in such an exciting finish, and I am especially happy for Michael. He is an absolute rock, he’s fantastic. I wish he could have won the individual event too, but hopefully he’ll get an individual win again soon.”
Hoey, 42, now ranked a lowly 546th in the world and playing most of his golf on the Challenge Tour, won US$50,000 for the team win, plus another US$49,000 for finishing 24th in the individual tournament, and said: “I knew there was a bit of money on my last putt on the 18th, but I was trying not to think about that.”
But perhaps the last word should go to Billy Horschel Snr., father of popular US Tour player Billy Horschel, who finished on eight-under-par for the tournament with a last day 70, in the team event. The Horschels ended with a team score of 24-under, rounding off a special week for Billy Snr., who celebrated his 70th birthday on October 1 and was presented with a bottle of champagne by Alfred Dunhill following his second round at Kingsbarns.
“Everyone running this tournament has treated me like family all week and that is what I have appreciated so much,” he said. “The camaraderie of the tournament has also been memorable for me, with all the teams I played with encouraging each other. The whole experience for me here has been simply unforgettable.”