European Tour

Danny Willett in pole position at Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

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English golfer Danny Willett
English golfer Danny Willett

Danny Willett carded a bogey-free 66 at St Andrews on Saturday to put himself on track for the perfect birthday celebration at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

The 2016 Masters champion turns 34 on Sunday and after battling some torrential rain during round three at the Old Course, he will take a three-shot lead into the final day in Scotland at 14 under par.

Ryder Cup stars Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry were showing no hangover from Europe's 19-9 hammering at the hands of the United States last week, sitting in a tie for second alongside England's Richard Bland and Irishman John Murphy.

Willett was a Ryder Cup player the year he won the green jacket but then slumped to 462nd in the world before winning two of the European Tour's elite Rolex Series events in 2018 and 2019.

He has struggled with coronavirus, wisdom teeth problems, appendicitis and a hernia and has once again dropped down the rankings to world number 170.

But after making three birdies in favourable conditions on the front nine and then three more battling wind and rain on the way home, he could be set to once again complete a remarkable comeback.

"Early on we had a decent bit of wind. Downwind you always feel like you should take some of your chances," said Willett.

"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.

"But we played them in two under so we're gaining - really hit it good on the last six and gained a lot of shots coming in doing that."

Englishman Hatton, a two-time winner of the event, held a four-shot lead after making four birdies in a row from the second but he recorded a hat-trick of bogeys from the 13th to card a 71.

Ireland's Lowry - the 2019 Open champion - also made four birdies in a row from the second in a 67 - a score matched by bogey-free Murphy - while Bland carded an eagle and seven birdies in a 64.

Leading third-round scores in the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns on Saturday (GBR/IRL unless stated, par 72):

202 - Danny Willett 67-69-66

205 - Shane Lowry 71-67-67, John Murphy 69-69-67, Richard Bland 69-72-64, Tyrrell Hatton 64-70-71

206 - Jeff Winther (DEN) 66-71-69, Daniel Gavins 67-68-71, Joakim Lagergren (SWE) 67-72-67

207 - Adri Arnaus (ESP) 64-76-67, Ewen Ferguson 65-73-69

208 - Deyen Lawson (AUS) 70-68-70, Matthieu Pavon (FRA) 68-70-70, Tommy Fleetwood 66-71-71, Alexander Noren (SWE) 70-68-70

209 - Nicolai Hoejgaard (DEN) 70-68-71, Matthi Schmid (GER) 71-68-70, Wilco Nienaber (RSA) 71-70-68, Richie Ramsay 67-72-70

210 - Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 64-75-71, Li Haotong (CHN) 64-72-74, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 67-73-70, Dean Burmester (RSA) 70-69-71, Billy Horschel (USA) 69-73-68, Eddie Pepperell 68-71-71, Callum Shinkwin 72-72-66

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