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Dunne leads Europeans in final push

Paul Dunne. Photo: Getty Images
Paul Dunne. Photo: Getty Images

Phil Casey

The last-chance saloon could have a distinctly European flavour after Paul Dunne, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood kept their hopes of a place in the Masters alive.

Only the winner of the Shell Houston Open, if not otherwise exempt, can claim the final place available at Augusta National for the first Major championship of the year.

And although American Beau Hossler was in pole position to do that after adding a 68 to his opening 65 to reach 11 under par, the European quartet remained in with a chance at the Golf Club of Houston.

Dunne, who held off Rory McIlroy to win his first European Tour title with a closing 61 in the British Masters last year, was the best placed on nine under after adding a 71 to his opening 64, which had briefly given him the outright lead after the delayed first round was completed on Friday morning.

But Lowry was just a stroke behind after carding five birdies and one bogey in a second consecutive 68, with Poulter another stroke back on seven under following a superb 64.

"I've been driving the ball well and when I can get the ball in the fairway with the driver, the rest of the game comes easier for me than that part of it," Dunne, who secured his place in Houston via a top-10 finish in the Dominican Republic last week, said.

"It would be nice to have a chance to win on Sunday so hopefully I can have a good round tomorrow and put myself in a position to where I can get the adrenalin going on Sunday."

Poulter was among the 33 players who had to finish their first rounds on Friday after a two-hour delay on the opening day caused by more than two inches of rain falling on the course overnight.

That meant a 7.20 start to play just one hole and complete a disappointing 73, but the former Ryder Cup star quickly turned things around when play resumed.

Starting from the 10th, Poulter birdied the 12th, 13th, 15th and 17th to reach the turn in 32 and picked up four further shots on the front nine to equal the lowest round of the week so far.

Poulter agonisingly missed out on a place at Augusta via the world rankings, his quarter-final defeat in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last week leaving him 0.03 points adrift of the required place in the top 50.

"I'm not thinking about it, not even talking about it now," Poulter said. "I was angry yesterday, felt as if I took myself out of the golf tournament. I've put myself back in it today with a good round. I'm going to need another couple of good rounds but we'll see how we go."

Justin Rose, who lost out to Sergio Garcia in a play-off in the Masters last year, was alongside Poulter on seven under following a 69.

Westwood has not missed the Masters since 2004 and was second to Danny Willett as recently as 2016, but has slipped to 90th in the world.

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