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Birthday cheers on the Old Course for Willett

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 held on to win.

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.

However, Lagergren 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).