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Lowry and Murphy finish in top 10 as Willett triumphs at Alfred Dunhill Links on 34th birthday

Kinsale’s John Murphy earned himself a spot at next week’s Spanish Open, pocketing a career-biggest paycheck in the process.

Danny Willett (L) and John Murphy.
Danny Willett (L) and John Murphy.
Image: PA

DANNY WILLETT GAVE himself the perfect birthday present with victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on Sunday.

The 2016 Masters champion went into the final round at St Andrews with a three-shot lead and carded a 68 to get to 18 under and win by two from fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton and Joakim Lagergren of Sweden.

A week on from his participation in the Ryder Cup, Shane Lowry finished tied for fourth on 15 under for the tournament, three shots off Willett having also posted a final-round 68.

Lowry was one of two Irishmen to finish in the top 10: Cork’s John Murphy finished an impressive weekend on 12 under par, tied for ninth. A final-round 71 prevented Murphy from launching a late challenge but with a clutch birdie on the last, the 23-year-old from Kinsale earned himself a spot at next week’s Spanish Open as well as a career-best €86,000 in prize money.

Murphy played in the final pairing alongside eventual winner Willett and three successive birdies between the third and the fifth had him off to a flier, but his challenge faded with a double bogey on the ninth.

Lowry also looked primed to contend with three early birdies of his own but he could find only one more after the sixth hole, that being on the 18th, as he finished three strokes back despite his bogey-free round.

Willett extended his lead to four in the early stages and — while he was briefly reeled in by Richard Bland — birdies at the ninth and 10th handed him a three-shot advantage once more and eight pars on the difficult closing stretch saw him close out a first victory in two years.

Following his triumph at Augusta National, Willett slipped to 462nd in the world before winning two of the European Tour’s elite Rolex Series events in 2018 and 2019.

This season he has struggled with coronavirus, wisdom teeth problems, appendicitis and a hernia but he has once again bounced back to win his eighth European Tour event and is set to move back into the world’s top 100.

An emotional Willett, who turned 34 on Sunday, described his win on British soil as “magical”.

“It’s been a very unfortunate last eight months, really,” he said.

“Every time the game feels like it’s been in a nice place, we’ve had a couple of things, issues with health, just things that you can’t really avoid.

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“Covid, wisdom teeth, appendix, they are just things and they seem to have knocked us back a peg or two and we’ve never really been able to get the momentum going in.

“For everyone watching, this seems quite out of the blue, but the practice I’ve been doing at home and the inner belief we have every time we get in and out of position to do something was proven again.”

The Alfred Dunhill Links is played over three courses, at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, with the final round taking place at St Andrews after the cut.

© – AFP, 2021

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