Sport Golf

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Dunne delight at call-up for Bjorn's EurAsia Cup side

Hong Kong Open, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 6.0am

Paul Dunne hits a shot from a bunker during round one of the Hong Kong Open. Photo: Getty Images
Paul Dunne hits a shot from a bunker during round one of the Hong Kong Open. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Paul Dunne didn't sound like he'd have nightmares about a one-over 71 as he headed for what he described as his "leaba" in faraway Hong Kong last night.

Big dreams are more likely to occupy his sleeping moments these days, and after being named yesterday in the 12-man European team that will defend the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia in January, he knows he has the talent to make those dreams come true.

The Wicklow man - 25 on Sunday - brings a watershed season to an end in Fanling on Sunday.

And while he went into this morning's second round tied for 47th, four strokes adrift of India's SSP Chawrasia in the UBS Hong Kong Open, his win in the British Masters and his rise to 77th in the world have made him hungry for even more success.

Making the team to face Asia at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur from January 10-12 is a major achievement for a player who was ranked 290th in the world just 12 months ago, having had to sweat to keep his card.

Now he's knocking on the door of the world's top 50, a serious contender for a place in Bjorn's European Ryder Cup team and just one good week away from a Masters debut.

"Obviously, I am delighted," said Dunne, who struggled in swirling winds yesterday as Chawrasia shot a five-under 65 to lead by a shot from England's Matt Fitzpatrick and compatriot Shubhankar Sharma.

"It's going to be a great week, and it's a great honour for me to represent Europe. I was delighted to make it because nobody knew who was going to make the team - it was a well-kept secret.

"We were just assuming certain people weren't going to play, but it was all guesswork."

Dependent

While the top 10 Europeans in the final Race to Dubai standings qualified automatically, Dunne was 14th in the pecking order and dependent on some big names opting to stay at home.

As things turned out, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari made themselves unavailable, which meant that Dunne joins Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Ross Fisher, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Alex Noren, Fitzpatrick, Bernd Wiesberger, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Pieters in the side.

Team captain Bjorn completed his line-up by handing wild cards to Frenchman Thomas Levy and England's Paul Casey, who returns to play for a European team nine years after his last appearance in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.

"I had spoken to Thomas Bjorn at a few events over the last few months and he'd asked me if I'd play if I qualified for the team," said Dunne, who only discovered he'd made it when he checked his social media.

"Now I am in and It looks like a really strong team, and I am delighted to be a part of it. Looking back a few years ago, if you had offered me the position I am in now, I'd have chopped your hand off for it. So I am delighted to be there. Hopefully, I can play well and show I am worthy of my place."

Dunne and fellow Irishman Shane Lowry are currently among the eight automatic qualifiers for the 2018 European Ryder Cup team.

And while the Greystones man would love to make his debut in Paris next year, he'll take time out to reflect on 2017 before resetting his goals

"Obviously, I'd love to play as many Ryder Cups as I can," he said of a potential debut in Paris alongside the likes of Lowry.

"I am just going to try and keep getting better and try and make some teams. But there is that much talent out there nowadays that those teams are difficult to make. For the moment I am going to concentrate on my own game and see if I can keep improving and keep winning and do as well as I can."

Closing with a 61 to win the British Masters by three shots from McIlroy last month told Dunne he has the game to move up to the next level.

"Obviously played well all week there, but, most importantly, I played well in that final round and on those last few holes when it mattered," he said. "It definitely gives me some confidence to know I can do when it matters and against a strong field.

"Hopefully, I can put myself in that position again and start to close out a bit more often."

His plans for December include a friendly game at Augusta National (his coach has been invited by a member) and he's hoping it will prove to be his first unofficial practice round for the Masters.

A win this week would help him qualify, but he knows he will still have a great 2018 schedule after his 16th-place finish in the Race to Dubai secured starts in The Open and two of next year's World Golf Championships.

"I have opened some doors to some big events, and I can make a great schedule for next year and keep improving and keep moving up the world rankings and get into the top 50," said Dunne, who will start 2018 with the EurAsia Cup before playing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

"After that, it's up in the air because it depends on how I do. But if I start moving up the rankings, I will be in more events. The Masters would be great, and if I can win again, that will take care of it for me. So I am going to try and do that and keep playing well.

"If not, there are plenty of big events where a little jump will do a lot for me and get me into the WGC-Dell Matchplay as well. We will have to play it by ear and see what happens."

Irish Independent

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