Oct 3rd, 2021
Willett chasing birthday double at St Andrews
Englishman leads Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on 34th birthday
Photography: Getty Images
The 2016 Masters and Alfred Dunhill Links Team Champion opened up a three-shot lead after a classic round in wet conditions, with six birdies and no bogeys, for a peerless 66 on the Old Course, to reach 14-under-par.
It could be a double celebration tomorrow. With his partner Jimmy Dunne, he is also joint leader of the Team Championship, tied on 27-under-par with Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson and Vamps lead singer Brad Simpson.
Afterwards Willett thanked the Scottish galleries who turned up to watch. “It’s great to have the fans back, and to have the Dunhill Links format back, we missed it last year. I think it’s great to have everyone here. We’re getting cheered on. Great to be back on British soil.”
Back to his full powers after an operation in the summer for appendicitis, Willett said: “Another 18 holes to go, we’ll see how we do. You need to drive it close, and as soon as you get on the 12th tee, you know you've got pretty tough conditions coming straight into the wind on the last six holes.”
For much of the afternoon it looked as if Willett might be sharing the lead with fellow Englishman Daniel Gavins, but, on the 16th at Kingsbarns, he hit his ball on to the beach and dropped a shot, following it with double bogeys at the 17th and 18th to drop back to ten-under-par.
The chasing pack on 11-under-par who will be fighting to catch Willett today are overnight leader Tyrrell Hatton and Richard Bland from England and Ireland’s Shane Lowry and John Murphy.
With four birdies in the first five holes, it looked as if Hatton was well on his way to a much longed for record third Alfred Dunhill Links title, but bogeys at the 13th,14th and 15th derailed him and he finished with a disappointing 71. Bland had a sparkling 64 at St Andrews, with Lowry and Murphy both shooting 67.
One of the highlights of an exciting day of golf was a hole-in-one by former NFL star Ahmad Rashad.
Once he realised he had made a hole-in-one on the 15th at Kingsbarns, he knew the one person he wanted to tell about it was Tiger Woods. Sometimes it helps to have the greatest player of the modern era on speed dial.
“The first thing I did was text Tiger!” said a delighted Rashad after completing his round. “He is a dear friend of mine and I wanted to let him know. He got back straight away – all he said was: ‘Well, I guess that means you’re buying.”
With the wind whipping up and the North Sea only a few metres to his right, Rashad lined up his shot.
“It was 176-yards. I took my 7-iron out because of how windy it was,” he said. “I’ve played the hole before and didn’t hit it far enough, but this time I hit it right at the pin. It took one bounce and went in, but I wasn’t sure from where I was. Then everyone went crazy!”
Rashad played in the NFL Pro Bowl four times in the 1970s and 80s and is one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the Minnesota Vikings. He executed one of the most celebrated plays in American Football when he caught a last-second Hail Mary pass to take the Vikings to the 1980 play-offs. After his athletic career, he became a leading broadcaster, crossing over to focus mainly on the NBA.