Last week was a good one for the Irish – triple-y good.
First of all, the headline writers had a field day, – “Well Dunne, Paul!” “The boy Dunne good.” “Job Dunne.” And so on. These proclamations were celebrating the maiden win of 24-year old Paul Dunne, born in Dublin, resident of Greystones.
You may remember the name. A mere two years ago the fresh-faced youngster shared the lead in the Open after 54 holes – as an AMATEUR. Alas, a not wholly unexpected final round of 78 tumbled him down the leaderboard to finish in a tie for 30th spot. Still, it was more than a valiant effort.
Later that year he threw his hat into the professional ring and steady progress over the next 18 months saw him, last April, once again in the lead after 54 holes, by two shots in the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco. This time his final round effort was a 68 but a super-charged finish by the Italian Edoardo Molinari, who had two eagles in the last nine holes, forced a play-off, which Dunne subsequently lost at the first tie hole, where he had a bogey. It was his best professional performance to date.
And then came last week and the British Masters, played at Close House in the northeast of England near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Going into the final round only two shots separated the top ten players with Swedish veteran Robert Karlsson one shot ahead of a group of five, containing Paul Dunne. Rory McIlroy was also handily placed in the peleton a shot further back.
Dunne’s statement of intent was made as early as the 1st where he chipped in for birdie, almost repeated the feat at the next and then knocked his second stiff at the 5th for another birdie. His faultless round continued, withstanding a late charge from countryman Rory McIlroy but with two to play, and Rory in the clubhouse, the lead was only one. The hours of practice proved their worth. A chip and putt birdie at the short par 4 17th doubled his lead giving him a cushion. He missed the green at the par 3 last but coolly bookended his round with another pitch finding the bottom of the cup for a closing 61. Talk about winning in style – and at the same time withstanding the ominous presence of Rory, who closed with five birdies in the last six holes, reminding us of what makes him so special. It was an Irish one-two to be celebrated – a new star from the Emerald Isle and the welcome return to the sharp end of a tournament of the world’s most exciting player. What could possibly top that?
Enter Seamus Power stage left. Seamus, alongside three-time major champion and all round good egg Padraig Harrington, represented Ireland at the Rio Olympics last summer. Hanging out for a week with Padraig and team captain Paul McGinley must have been a priceless experience for the Waterford man and may just have provided that last little extra slither of something that enabled him to retain his playing rights on the PGA Tour for the 2017-2018 season. Last weekend the Web.com Tour Championship in Florida was the scene of high drama with the weather forcing a Monday finish, not to mention many bitten fingernails and the odd snapped club. Power survived the cut by a single shot, going on to shoot 70, 71 to finish 48th and secure the final of the 25 cards on offer to the players who earn the most cumulative money in the four Finals events.
It all boiled down to $287, a measly sum that is the difference between being on the big stage with millions to play for or…..well, or not. That $287 means that he teed it up yesterday in the Safeway Open in Napa, California, the first event of the new season, as a fully fledged cardholder. In this game even one careless shot can cost you your livelihood.
So after an up and down weekend, extended painfully into Monday, the cocktail of Dunne, McIlroy and Power proved compelling and inspirational for all young Irish players. And for us older ones – well, how about a drink to celebrate and bring the ole heart rate back down to normal? Mine’s a triple Irish!