Dunne delivers with Master stroke
Rory McIlroy's seemingly irresistible charge towards his first title of the year was thwarted by Paul Dunne's remarkable 61, which came complete with an outrageous chip-in on the last.
McIlroy could only look on and shake his head when Dunne's ball dropped and, in that moment, doubtless confirmed to himself that, no, 2017 had not been his year. McIlroy was typically gracious, saying Dunne's maiden victory was "good to see".
"Paul's been knocking on the door, having missed out in a play-off in Morocco," McIlroy added. "It's unbelievable to shoot 61 to win his first Tour event and I'm happy for him. He works hard on his game so it's very well deserved. With Paul we all knew it was when rather than if."
Indeed, Dunne, 24, at last has that professional win to put alongside his famous accomplishment as an amateur.
At St Andrews in 2015, the Dubliner became the first member of the non-paid ranks for 88 years to lead going into the final round the British Open. Yet whatever ghouls might still have remained from that humbling 78 at the Home of Golf were emphatically swiped away here, with a display of incredible quality and maturity.
"It feels great," said Dunne, who collects a cheque for £500,000 (€566,000) and a place in the world's top 100 for the first time. "It's nice to finally put the demon off my back and get my first title.
"I've been up there a few times this year and never got to put the foot down on Sunday so I woke up this morning determined to really try to win, rather than have someone hand it to me.
"I had a two-shot lead in Morocco and Edoardo (Molinari) finished birdie, eagle so I was just waiting for the leaderboard to show Rory having a hole-in-one on the last or something."
That would have been too cruel on Dunne who played the first six holes in five-under to skip leave of a leaderboard not only featuring McIlroy but also the likes of Robert Karlsson, the former of merit winner who finished third, and Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, the two English veterans who struggled to 11th and 15th respectively.
Dunne remained imperturbable, even when McIlroy tore into his advantage and the cheers echoed all around Northumberland.
The four-time Major winner birdied five of the last seven for a 63, his lowest score of the campaign. And with his 64 on Saturday, it meant that he was 13-under for the weekend.
But it was still not enough to stop Dunne, who had a one-shot lead and two left to play when McIlroy tapped in for his fine seven-under effort.
Instead of wobbling, Dunne birdied the 17th and then gave the record attendance the grandstand finish it deserved by holing from between the bunker and the rough on the par-three last. Dunne's reaction said it all, punching the air and kicking his legs. McIlroy was certainly impressed.
"You know, there was a real buzz out there, a proper atmosphere. It felt big, especially when I was making all those birdies down the stretch," McIlroy said.
"But Paul didn't let the occasion or anything get to him, which shows that he can handle this sort of environment. A win like this for Paul does his chances of making next year's Ryder Cup team a world of good, and it will be great to have some young guys on that team."
For his own part, McIlroy could only be content. His season began with a play-off defeat to world No 249 in Graeme Storm at the South African Open and now in its closing weeks, finished with a loss to a similarly inspired world No 192 in Dunne at the British Masters.
He is due to take a three-and-half-month break after this week's Dunhill Links at St Andrews, during which he intends to fully recover from the rib injury which has blighted his season and work on some technical aspects of his game.
However, on this showing, there is not too much wrong.
"I actually felt like I played better once I got into contention," McIlroy said.
"I felt like it focused me. I got into my routine and did what I had to do. Shooting 64-63 over the weekend, I thought I would have a chance. It just shows how well Paul played." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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