Englishman David Howell won a thrilling play-off against Peter Uihlein to record his first European tour win in over seven years. At the start of the final day, American Uihlein, ranked 100 in the world, lead by two strokes and was being chased by a pack of six, which included Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els and eventual winner Howell.
Celebrities and professional golfers descended on St. Andrews for the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The tournament, which is played on three courses over four days, is one of the flagship events of the European tour. With a prize fund of $5,000,000 the competition attracts the top names in the golfing world.
The conditions on the final day proved to be the toughest of the tournament. 2011 Dunhill winner Michael Hoey said: “It was a lot colder today and the humidity was totally different.” Tom Lewis, who carded a strong round of 64 to finish one stroke behind the leaders, said that the wind on the back nine was “always going to play tough.”
One thing became evident very early on: predicting the outcome was going to be near enough impossible. Thomas Levet started with five birdies over the first five holes which thrust the Frenchman into a two shot lead over Uihlein and Howell who were both on -19.
At one point Tom Lewis was only one shot off the lead, however, as Howell and Levet were making the big early moves. Both men were striking the ball well from the tee and swiftly climbed the leader board to -22 and then simultaneously to -23.
Shane Lowry was also in contention and briefly opened up a one shot lead to go -24. All the while Uihlein remained calm and played sensible golf, keeping him within reach of the leaders.
As the day moved on towards late afternoon the real drama unfolded. Holes 14 and 15 were causing some big problems for the golfers. The wind was rattling in from the North Sea and pulling tee shots into the heavy, unforgiving rough. It was these holes that ended both Lowry’s and Levet’s contention. There was, however, a silver lining for Levet as he and his amateur partner, David Sayer, went on to win the team pro-am event.
Lewis was the early clubhouse leader on -22. However, speaking exclusively to The Saint after his round he confided that he was “maybe just one short.” Another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood, almost joined Lewis for the clubhouse lead but missed a very inviting birdie chance on the 18th. The 22 year old, however, was happy with his final day 67. Uilhein and Howell confirmed Lewis’ previous suspicions and both finished at -23, forcing the tournament into a two hole play-off.
Both men made par on the first, which meant that they would come up the 18th for the second time. The unforgiving hole location on the 18th made birdie opportunities hard to come by on the final day. The two men opted for aggressive approach shots. Uilhein’s second shot was safe and left him with a long birdie putt. Howell then hit a fantastic approach shot, landing his ball 10 feet inside Uilhein’s. As Uilhein missed his putt the door was left ajar for Howell, who in turn sank his putt to make birdie and claim the championship. Elation swept through the galleries, but the biggest celebrations of all were on the green. Addressing the crowd, Howell remarked: “You think you’re happy? You’re not nearly as happy as I am!”
Howell, a man who was part of the 2004 and 2006 Ryder Cup winning teams but is now ranked 176 in the world, was clearly ecstatic about the win. He referenced the hard seven years he has had on and off the course but was optimistic that “this could be the start of something big.”
As the competition winds down for another year, “What about Hugh Grant?” I hear you ask. He made the cut as Howell’s playing partner. Howell joked that “I used Hugh for my own benefit today; I laughed at his bad shots.” Grant was clearly happy with the final outcome, posing for pictures with the winner on the Swilcan Bridge.