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Willett on track for big birthday celebration in Scotland

Willett on track for big birthday celebration in Scotland

Danny Willett put himself in pole position for the perfect birthday present as he mastered some brutal conditions at St Andrews to take a three shot lead into the final round of the 2021 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Danny Willett

The Englishman turns 34 on Sunday and after carding a brilliant bogey free 66 over the Old Course to get to 14 under, he could be celebrating with an eighth European Tour win.

They say you can have four seasons in one day in Scotland and that seemed to be the case in round three on the east coast, as Willett began his day in pleasant sunshine and ended it in torrential rain and high winds.

But the 2016 Masters Champion is a veteran of links golf and after taking advantage of the favourable conditions to turn in 33, he battled on the back nine to come home in the same number.

Fellow Englishmen Tyrrell Hatton and Richard Bland and Irish pair Shane Lowry and John Murphy - who all also played St Andrews - were the nearest challengers, a shot clear of England's Daniel Gavins, Swede Joakim Lagergren and Dane Jeff Winther.

"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 them last six holes.

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

Willett has a good links record and is 73 under for his career over the Old Course, finishing second at this event in 2010, and sixth at The Open Championship in 2015.

He has yet to record a top ten on the 2021 Race to Dubai but thrives in the European Tour's biggest events, with his last four wins coming at the Dubai Desert Classic, the Masters Tournament, and in the Rolex Series at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai and BMW PGA Championship.

Two time champion Hatton entered the day with a one shot lead and soon extended it to four as he holed a 20 footer on the second, hit smart approaches into the third and fourth and made the most of the par five fifth.

We really hit it good on them the last six and gained a lot of shots coming in doing that

But as he made seven pars in a row, Willett and Gavins set about reeling him in.

Willett had birdied the second from four feet and he made a two putt gain on the fifth before holing a ten footer on the seventh to trim the lead to three.

Two putts after driving the tenth had Willett at 12 under and he was soon joined by Gavins, who birdied the second, fifth and seventh at Kingsbarns.

Another birdie from Gavins on the tenth had him in solo second but he had Willett for company after a 20 foot birdie on the 13th.

A two putt birdie on the tenth put Gavins in a tie for the lead and he was soon on his own as Hatton made a hat-trick of bogeys from the 13th.

A pitch to three feet on the last saw Willett in a share of the lead and while Gavins hit the front on his own with a 15 footer on the 15th, the 30-year-old finished bogey, double, double to tumble down the leaderboard with a 71.

Lowry holed a long putt at the second and then left himself less than ten feet at the third and fourth before a two putt on the fifth made it four birdies in a row. A 20 footer on the eighth saw him turn in 31 and while he bogeyed the tenth, an approach to 14 feet on the 16th handed him a 67.

Bland produced arguably the round of the day with a 64, holing from nearly 50 feet on the fifth and ninth as he made seven birdies and an eagle with a single dropped shot.

Murphy was bogey free in his 67, birdieing the tenth, 18th, first and fifth and leaving himself a tap-in on the par three eighth.

Winther carded a 69 at St Andrews and Lagergren signed for a 67 at Kingsbarns to sit a shot ahead of Spaniard Adri Arnaus and Scot Ewen Ferguson.

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