Wednesday 22 November 2017

Dunne stays calm amid storm to mix it with Open elite

Legend Watson bows out at St Andrews with second round to finish today after deluge delays play

Ireland's amateur Paul Dunne tips his hat to the crowd on the 18th green of St Andrews
Ireland's amateur Paul Dunne tips his hat to the crowd on the 18th green of St Andrews
Amateur Paul Dunne of Ireland remains calm during the storm as he competes with Open elite
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Darkness fell over St Andrews as Tom Watson took his final steps over the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course shortly before 10.0pm last night.

Watson stood in the gathering gloom with arms outstretched as a thunderous roar of applause rumbled across the fairway in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.

He has been beloved of golf fans worldwide but especially in Scotland where he won four of his five Open championships at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Troon. His other one came at Royal Birkdale in 1983.

Watson would love to have made it through to tomorrow but scores of 76 and 80 made that impossible.

On a weather-lashed day after a morning rainstorm caused a delay of three hours and 14 minutes, there were concerns that the great man would have to come back to join the other 42 who have to resume their second round at 7.0am this morning.

Among those who need to set the alarm clock extra early are Dustin Johnson at 10-under after 13 holes; Paul Lawrie and Jason Day at eight-under after 12 and 11 holes respectively, and Jordan Spieth at five-under after 13.

Darren Clarke at one-under through 13 holes, and Tiger Woods at five-over after 11 are also in the early group.


Shane Lowry got his round finished last night but his 72 left him at one-over overall and the projected cut was level-par.

The plan is to get the second round completed, and play in three-balls in a bid to get the third round finished by tonight and clear the way for the finale tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the man of the moment from an Irish point of view was the amateur Paul Dunne from Greystones, sitting safely on the first page of the leaderboard on six-under par, just three adrift of England's Danny Willett whose nine-under for 36 holes made him the clubhouse leader last night.

Dunne's successful birdie attempt from six feet on the 18th drew forth loud cheers and applause from his supporters as he finished up around 8.0pm.

Dunne, 22, is the first Irish amateur since Eoghan O'Connell in 1987 to gain entry to the Open via the qualifying series which he did last year and again this year when he won the final qualifying at Woburn. If that was impressive, then his first-round 69 to lie three-under par and be leading Irishman on Thursday caused a stir.

But that was nothing compared with his second successive 69 last evening which placed him on six-under, and just three shots behind Willett in a tie for tenth overall.

The last two amateurs to finish with a top ten in the Open were Chris Wood (fifth) in 2008 at Royal Birkdale and Justin Rose (fourth) in 1998, also at Birkdale. Dunne has already eclipsed their 36-hole scores. Wood was five-over par in '08, and Rose two-under at the halfway stage.

Birkdale had a par of 70 those years but in relative terms, six-under at St Andrews is mighty impressive by any standards.

"It was really enjoyable. When I arrived at the course I thought anything around level-par would be really good, but because the wind was kind of across all day, I knew there were birdie chances on the back nine, so if I could get anything in under par, it would be a really good score, so I was delighted to shoot 69," said Dunne.

He's 5ft 9ins in height, slim but strongly built, and a very tidy golfer whose recent acquisition of the latest Titleist driver has solved what he called 'my nemesis'.

Last April, Dunne graduated in Business Finance from of the University of Alabama, Graeme McDowell's alma mater.

He has won the Irish Boys and Youths titles and is a virtual certainty to play in the Walker Cup against the USA at Royal Lytham and St Annes in September.

Dunne will turn pro in the autumn, and his four birdies and only one bogey - a three-putt on 16 - suggest he has the right credentials to make a good career in the paid ranks.

His next immediate challenge is to negotiate the third round of the Open, but like Pádraig Harrington, he has the luxury of knowing he has made the cut.

"It'll be a new experience, but I'm not 100 per cent sure how I'll handle it.

"Hopefully I'll just take it like second nature, but you never know.

"Obviously the forecast is for high winds tomorrow, so the course is going to play really tough.

"When it gets that windy it's kind of hard to focus on anything else but the shots at hand, because it's so easy for them to get away from you on the wind," said Dunne.

No golf tournament is ever a foregone conclusion but this 144th edition of the Open Championship at St Andrews goes way beyond normal predictions.

An overnight rainstorm battered the venerable links, producing pools of water on fairways and the early starters were relieved when play was halted for three hours and 14 minutes, resuming at 10.10am.

Harrington, scheduled for a 7.38am tee-time, did not get going until 11.52 and that suited him very nicely indeed as he avoided the worst of the weather and registered 69 for three-under-par 141 overall.

First-round leader Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, at seven-under par and five-under respectively after day one, had to wait until 5.48pm to start their second rounds.

It was a case of when the cat's away, the mice will play, as Willett set the clubhouse lead in the afternoon at nine-under following his three-under-par 69.

Scotland's Marc Warren, playing in Harrington's group, enjoyed huge local support and gave the home galleries plenty to shout about as he followed his opening 68 with a 69 for seven-under par.

He was joined on that mark by Adam Scott following the Aussie's impressive 67 and later by Zach Johnson.

As the day wore on, the rain stayed away, and the wind shifted and shimmied, at times blowing hard gusts and then softening to a mild-to-strong breeze, and gusting again. Always there, but never predictable, which added to the challenge.

And despite the cult of youth among Major winners over the last five years, let's not forget that older guys in the field know how to deal with adverse conditions.

Darren Clarke won the Open in 2011 at age 43. Ernie Els was also 43 when he followed Clarke as the 2012 Open champion, and Phil Mickleson was another 43-year-old when he did the hat-trick for the over-40s, at the Open in 2013.

It may be stretching a little to suggest that Harrington being 43 is an omen for tomorrow, as he lies six shots behind clubhouse, but who knows?

Dr Bob Rotella believes that experience, particularly in this championship as Watson proved at Turnberry in 2009, should not be easily discounted.

Open Championship,

Live, BBC 2, 7.0am

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