Tyrrell Hatton grabbed one bit of history while Ross Fisher lost the chase of his fellow Englishman but snatched an equally significant historical milestone in the final blows of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Hatton became the first man to retain the Dunhill title – and only the second to win it twice – as he coasted to a final round 66 for a three shot margin of victory on 24-under aggregate of 264 – beating his own record from his victory last year by a shot.
But in perfect, benign conditions for scoring, what had seemed almost inevitable in this event for years finally happened. In an ultimately fruitless but brave assault on Hatton’s five-stroke lead at the start of play, Fisher finally broke the enormous log-jam of 62s that marked the record for the most famous golf course in the world.
In the end, that was almost an anti-climax. The 36-year-old former Ryder Cup player missed a three foot putt for a 60 – he had an eagle putt for the European Tour’s first 59 from the Valley of Sin and came up short – having made a gutsy par save from the path at the back of the famous 17th green.
But his 61 was still good enough to rip the crowded page from the record book featuring all those down the years who had 62s on the Old Course of varying lengths, starting with Curtis Strange in the 1987 Dunhill Cup, followed by others that included Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, as well as Hatton during his victory in last year’s Dunhill.
Yet although Fisher made history, he was only second for the second year in a row, and it was Hatton who took the £595,000 first prize, taking his winnings in this event in two years to a cool £1.2 million.
“This week was the first time I’ve ever defended a title or had the challenge to do it,” he said. “It felt a lot harder to win this year than it was last year, I’m so happy to get over the line.”
Hatton didn’t feel Fisher’s galloping footsteps behind him until he was almost home, and it stiffened his resolve for the final two holes.
“I didn’t see a leaderboard until the 16th green and saw he was at -21, and I had a 15 minute wait on 17 which made the tee shot a little harder than I wanted to be,” he admitted.
“Fair play to Fish, it was an incredible round of golf and he certainly did push me all the way.”
In truth, when he chipped in from the bank of the Swilcan Burn after drowning his second shot there to escape with a par, there was only going to be one winner no matter what Fisher or anyone else did. Buoyed by that, Hatton went out in 31 in the almost windless conditions, and he was able to cruise down the back nine fairly effortlessly.
Fisher knew that there was a score out there, although 61 or even better wasn’t much in his thoughts until he got to the closing stretch.
“When you get St. Andrews on a day like this, it’s definitely scoreable, but you still have to hit the shots,” he said.
“I got off to a fast start, birdied the 2nd, 3rd and 4th and hit a lovely 3-wood into five, left it literally hanging on the lip to be 5-under through five.”
“I caught fire a bit on the back nine as well. A shame not to birdie the last for a 60, but I’m not going to complain too much with a 61.”
He didn’t really entertain any thoughts of catching Hatton, who was eight ahead of him in the morning.
“Unfortunately Tyrrell was too far ahead, but maybe I managed to give him a little bit to think about coming down the stretch.
“But hats off to him. To win your first tournament here at the Home of Golf is fantastic, but to back it up and successfully defend around these three courses is unique and very, very special.”
France’s Victor Dubuisson, who had entertained hopes of a record himself at one point, finished along in third after a 63, with Robert Rock and Scot Marc Warren in fourth.
Rory McIlroy finished well back with a par 72, a round he thought summed up his season – at its end, as he now goes for a three month sabbatical.
“My last round of 2017 summed up my season in 2017, stuck in neutral,” he said, although he still believes the prep work to be done in the next few weeks will set him up for a return to glories in 2018.
“I’m a much better player now than I was in 2010 and 2012 when I was able to win a couple of majors,” he said. “I see no reason why I can’t better that in the next ten years and that’s why I feel like these three months are very important for me.
“I’m not going to leave any stone unturned and do everything I can to get back to the best player in the world.”