Friday 15 December 2017

Dunne the brightest prospect for Irish success

Dunne has the form and credentials to give Irish fans an added interest over the next four days. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Dunne has the form and credentials to give Irish fans an added interest over the next four days. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Irish golfers have won all over the world but a BMW PGA Championship title is the preserve of only two golfers from this island - Rory McIlroy and Harry Bradshaw.

McIlroy's victory in 2014 heralded a stellar year which yielded an Open Championship victory at Hoylake and a US PGA win at Valhalla.

Bradshaw's place on the roll of honour came in 1958, when the tournament was limited to professionals from the UK and Ireland.

Not a great return, considering the quality of our Tour pros in the last 62 years, and without McIlroy playing at Wentworth this week, the prospects of an Irish victory have diminished.

The world number two's absence from the $7m dollar Rolex Series event will be keenly felt by fans, Tour officials, TV executives, and media, but injury prevents McIlroy from testing his mettle against a strong field on the revamped West Course.

Paul McGinley's withdrawal on Tuesday because of a recurring back injury leaves six Irish in the draw - Pádraig Harrington, Paul Dunne, Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke, Damien McGrane and Neil O'Briain.

The latter two qualified via the PGA in Ireland circuit, with former European Tour pro McGrane the reigning Irish PGA champion.

He and O'Briain, who is the head pro at Old Conna GC in Wicklow, will have making the cut as their primary aim. Anything else would be a bonus.

Darren Clarke, unfortunately, is struggling to find form and he, too, will do well to make the cut.

Pádraig Harrington will, no doubt, bring his customary optimism to the fray, but playing his first event since having serious neck surgery in March suggests he will take time to get fully tournament-fit.

Shane Lowry is well capable of coming out of the traps and making a run up the leaderboard.

The 30-year-old certainly needs to start making inroads on the campaign as he is currently 143rd in the Race to Dubai rankings and has dropped out of the golden circle that is the top-50 in the world to 76th.

Paul Dunne - no pressure then - has the form and credentials to give Irish fans an added interest over the next four days.

Dunne, 24, was beaten in a playoff by Edoardo Molinari for the Tropheé Hassan 11 title last month and then placed 33rd in the his next tournament, the Shenzen International.

The Greystones golfer currently sits in 22nd place on the Race to Dubai, the highest-ranked Irishman apart from McIlroy, who is ninth.

Welcome as an Irish challenge would be, the quality of golf is guaranteed in a field packed with Major winners and Ryder Cup stars, including Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer, Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Lee Westwood, and holder Chris Wood.

Golf, of course, is not separated from the outside world, and the tournament will be played against the backdrop of the suicide-bombing atrocity in Manchester on Monday night.

Security has been stepped up, and players and caddies will wear black ribbons in sympathy with the dead and injured.

Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell remain in America to play the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Fort Worth, Texas.

BMW PGA Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.0am

Dean & Deluca Invitational

Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0pm

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