Saturday 24 August 2019

Dawson flies the home flag as Rock rolls with superb 60

Robin Dawson during the third round. Photo: Reuters/Peter Cziborra
Robin Dawson during the third round. Photo: Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Dermot Gilleece

Embraced by the soothing surge of Atlantic waves, Robin Dawson found ease from the excitement of his third-round exploits in a sell-out €6.2m Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch yesterday. A stunning 64 in penetrating, morning mist left the 23-year-old Waterford player on seven-under par overall and six strokes behind the leader, Robert Rock.

Deprived of their early fire, receptive greens made for remarkable scoring, most notably from Rock, whose unprecedented 60 in an Irish Open culminated in an astonishing run of six birdies. Rafa Cabrera-Bello, with a 63, shared second place with Eddie Pepperell.

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Runner-up to Shane Lowry in 2009 and to Paul Casey in 2013, Rock surpassed the 61s of Graeme McDowell (Baltray 2009) and Ross Fisher at Killarney the following year. The only other player to shoot 60 in a tour event here was Darren Clarke in the second round of the 1999 Smurfit European Open. That, too, happened on a Saturday, en route to a Monday finish of the event.

In a red-letter day for Team Ireland, Cormac Sharvin, who is sharing a house with Dawson near Lisdoonvarna, shot a 66 to be nine-under overall and tied seventh. The key to Sharvin's score was a run of three birdies from the 12th, which included the par-four 13th, where he drove the green off a forward tee.

"I happily got lost in one shot at a time," he said afterwards. "Obviously I haven't played in front of many Irish crowds, so this was super exciting."

The cheering galleries for himself and Dawson emphasised the importance of home prominence, established by Padraig Harrington's opening 63 on Thursday.

It also illustrated the value of golfing camaraderie, as in the sight of Dawson having his former international foursomes partner, Peter O'Keeffe, caddying for him. Indeed, it was O'Keeffe, a golf performance coach, who suggested the lunchtime swim "to pull the plug on the emotion of everything that's been happening."

O'Keeffe went on: "I want him to get his legs into the water for a bit of recovery. Having observed so many collapses over the years, I cannot believe how a player and caddie just go silent and a player crumbles. So we would just chat, chat and chat."

It's been a remarkable week for Dawson, who is coached by Noel Fox. Only last Monday he was in Rome en route to a Challenge Tour event in Slovakia, when he discovered he had got the last spot at Lahinch.

After a hasty return, he nailed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to make the cut on the limit of one-under-par on Friday. That prompted the suspicion that good things were happening for him. "To be honest, I was only trying to two-putt, thinking a par would be enough, so I was obviously delighted it went in," he said.

A measure of his sparkling iron-play was that six birdies were achieved with putts of 10 feet or less, the best of them at the difficult 15th where he hit a seven-iron approach of 168 yards.

Prudence, however, meant settling for par on the last, where he opted for a safe, three-iron approach from a partial divot, 261 yards away.

"The Irish Open has been great to me," Rock acknowledged, reflecting, no doubt, on a winner's cheque when Lowry, then an amateur, beat him in a play-off. "It's right up there with ones that I'd love to win." He went on: "Coming down the 18th, I checked the card to see what par was and I was pleased to see it was a 70. It meant an eagle would do it (59)."

As it happened, his 18-foot eagle effort slipped past the left side of the hole.

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