Birthday boy Danny Willett held firm at St Andrew's to win the 2021 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship by two strokes.

The 2016 Masters champion took a three-stroke lead into the final day and struck a composed round of 68 to finish on 18 under par overall.

FINAL LEADERBOARD

On a tournament played across three Scottish links courses - Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrew's - Willett shot four rounds in the 60s, beginning with a 67 in Carnoustie on Thursday, a 69 in Kingsbarns, and rounds of 66 and 68 over the weekend in St Andrew's.

The win caps off what has been a largely barren year for the Englishman, who last won at the PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2019.

Two shots back in second place were Tyrrell Hatton, who overcame a sluggish start on Sunday, to card a 66 to reach -16, and the Swede Joakim Lagergren, who looked the likeliest threat to Willett over the closing holes.

It was an ultimately frustrating day for the Irish challengers, Shane Lowry and John Murphy, both of whom began the final day in a tie for second, three strokes off the lead.

On a day of low scoring, Lowry birdied three of the opening six holes but parred the next 11 holes on the trot as the prospects of a tournament victory gradually slipped away. The 2019 Open champion was left cursing his putter as a number of birdie chances slipped by.

He did tap in for birdie at the short par-4 18th for a solid final round of 68 but this proved insufficient to reel in Willett and he had to content himself with a fourth place finish, alongside Richard Bland on 15 under par.

John Murphy finished in tied-9th

Murphy, who only turned pro in recent months and playing in the final group with Willett, rolled in three birdies in a row from the third to the fifth and briefly held second spot on his own. However, his chances were fatally wounded with a wretched double-bogey on the relatively straightforward ninth hole, the Cork golfer pulling his drive left into a gorse bush, necessitating a penalty drop. A three-putt compounded the misery.

On the more testing back-nine, Murphy bogeyed the 16th but finished well with an important birdie on the 18th to get to 12 under par and back into the top-ten, ultimately finishing in a tie for ninth place.

Willett celebrating his triumph at St Andrew's

Following his triumph at Augusta National, Willett slipped to 462nd in the world before winning two of the European Tour's elite Rolex Series events in 2018 and 2019.

This season has seen him struggle with Covid-19, wisdom teeth, appendicitis and a hernia but he has once again bounced back to win his eighth European Tour event and could move back into the world's top 100.

"It's been a couple of years of average stuff again," said the Yorkshireman, who turned 34 on Sunday. "I seem to do this a lot actually, go up and down.

"It's been a very unfortunate last eight months, really. Every time the game feels like it's been in a nice place, we've had a couple of things, issues with health, just things that you can't really avoid.

"Covid, wisdom teeth, appendix, they are just things and they seem to have knocked us back a peg or two and we've never really been able to get the momentum going in.

"For everyone watching, this seems quite out of the blue, but the practice I've been doing at home and the inner belief we have every time we get in and out of position to do something was proven again."