England’s Tyrrell Hatton put himself in line to become the first player to successfully defend the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship after a seven-under-par 65 at Carnoustie Friday sees him at the top of the leaderboard alongside compatriot Tommy Fleetwood, the Race to Dubai leader, at the halfway mark on 11-under 133.
Fleetwood had a stunning 63 at Carnoustie, which included an inward half of just 30 strokes, with six birdies, five of them on the trot from the 11th.
Hatton equalled the Old Course record at St Andrews last year with a third round 62 on his way to his maiden European Tour victory. He won by four from fellow Englishman Ross Fisher and South Africa’s Richard Sterne who were joint runners-up.
Now Hatton and Fleetwood lead by one from Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts.
While there are no South Africans on the first page of the leaderboard, Brandon Stone (67 at Carnoustie for 138) and Anthony Michael (65 at St Andrews also for 138) both played well on Friday and, five adrift of the lead with 36 holes to go, are clearly still in the hunt.
Branden Grace (69 at Carnoustie) and Jbe Kruger (68 at St Andrews) are one stroke further back on 139.
Grace was seven-under with three holes to go but finished poorly with bogeys at 16, at 228m one of the longest par-3s in golf, and 17 which is one of the toughest par-4s on the course. Then he missed a six-footer for birdie at 18.
A product of Randpark, Michael was introduced to the game at just three years old by his father and grandfather but played all the sports, and as a youngster achieved provincial colours for soccer and national colours for baseball.
“I played baseball for two years, and even went to Japan. I dreamed about being a big star and playing for the New York Yankees. But the sport kind of died in South Africa so I decided golf’s the way to go.”
So, after representing Central Gauteng at Under-16 and under-18 level, he landed a scholarship to Oklahoma City University in 2005, graduating with a degree in Business Administration. Golf-wise, he made great strides and won five collegiate events during his four years in America.
Stone’s 67 included an eagle-three at the par-5 12th hole, where amateur Schalk Burger, the big former Springbok-turned-winemaker, also made eagle on day one and, as he received a shot there because of his handicap, it was a nett albatross.
“I’m trying to keep up with my sons,” he said after hitting the green in two and sinking the putt.
“My one son Tiaan had a hole-in-one recently and Schalk junior (also of course a former Bok and now with Saracens) then had a gross albatross in a SuperSport golf day back in South Africa. So this old man is just trying to show them that I’m not over the hill yet.”
Stone has already won twice on the European Tour, in the 2016 BMW South African Open at Glendower, and the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
Because it’s played on three courses – St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – the Alfred Dunhill Championship has a 54-hole cut which will be determined at the end of Saturday’s play, and Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, both level par, will need to be playing catch-up if they are to survive as the cut currently looks like it could be two, three or even four-under.