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Willett chasing a very special birthday present

The stage is set for an enthralling climax in the final round of a thrilling Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, with the burning question being: can anyone stop Danny Willett winning on his 34th birthday?

The 2016 Masters and Alfred Dunhill Links Team Champion opened up a three-shot lead after a classic third 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 today. 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 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.

*During the round play stopped on all three courses for a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the covid-19 pandemic.