Amateur Dunne breaks mould to lead Irish challengers on day of what-ifs
The young fella showed the older lads the way around St Andrews.
Normally, that would refer to Rory McIlroy but in his enforced absence, the mantle of leading Irishman on the first day of the Open was taken up by Greystones member and amateur golfer Paul Dunne.
Take a bow, young master Dunne. The 22-year-old graduate of the University of Alabama showed he had the right stuff by carding 69, three-under par, and still felt he left one or two shots out there.
He teed off at 6.43am in the company of 2004 Claret Jug winner Todd Hamilton and James Hahn of the USA.
Around 7.15am, Dunne could see his name on top of the leaderboard at two-under par following birdies on his first two holes. It did not last long but it was a moment to treasure.
"Yeah it was cool to see it on the screen.
"It's kind of a novelty thing for when I'm 70 years old, sitting in a bar, having a pint, maybe telling someone that I led The Open.
"Hopefully I can do it more times in the future but it was nice to get off to a birdie-birdie start, it just settled the nerves a bit," he said.
A former Irish Boys and Youth champion and Walker Cup panellist, Dunne will turn pro in the autumn, and did his confidence and prospects a power of good.
His Open debut came at Hoylake last year. He shot 75-73 for four-over par 148 and missed the cut, but the experience was invaluable.
"It was really important for my preparation, it just kind of settled me down at the start of the week.
"In America this year I played in front of the TV cameras so I was a little bit used to that and the atmosphere of it, so it definitely made me sort of settle down at the start of the week, rather than taking a few days to get into it," he said.
Three birdies in his first five holes, and another on the ninth where he holed from 90 feet, had Dunne motoring nicely. His only bogey came at the 174-yards par-3 11th and he managed to par his way home from there.
Graeme McDowell finished at level-par 72, and was left with an aching sense of regret about birdie chances spurned when the going was good on his front nine.
"I hit the ball lovely today, especially the first 12 or 13 holes. I felt like I hit good putts and made nothing," he said.
Pádraig Harrington got the least favourable conditions with his afternoon start and was another on level-par 72, scoring three birdies and three bogeys.
"It was tough out there in the afternoon, especially if you get the first couple of holes downwind and you don't take your chances.
"I was happy to play the last seven holes in level-par.
"I possibly left a couple of shots out there on the first 11 holes, but the last seven I made up for it with some good saves," he said.
Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke each scored one-over-par 73 to start in very moderate fashion.
The common theme was frustration but in Lowry's case the disappointment ran double deep.
He had started badly, going bogey, bogey on his first two holes, then rallied in typical battling fashion with five birdies in eight holes from the 7th to the 14th inclusive.
A couple of pars followed, and then came disaster on the infamous 17th where he hit his drive out of bounds, then chunked his way down the left side of the fairway with his second ball before reaching the green in six, and two-putting for a horrible eight.
Clarke's 73 came with less drama but with 30 putts. He was not impressed.
"I got nothing. I hit it just in the bunker on the fifth, off the tee, and I had to come out sideways; and I hit it in the bunker on 11, and I had to come backwards and sideways.
"I hit it in the bunker on 14 up at the green, and I had to go completely backwards.
"If you hit it in the bunker, that's fair enough.
"But when they just go in and you have got to come out backwards, that is one of the nuances of the Old Course and I had to pay the penalty," said Clarke.