Saturday 23 March 2019

Ruthless Dunne hones killer instinct for Ryder Cup bid

Paul Dunne will just have time to open his presents before jetting out to Dubai on January 1 to prepare for his professional team debut.
Paul Dunne will just have time to open his presents before jetting out to Dubai on January 1 to prepare for his professional team debut.

Brian Keogh

Paul Dunne has vowed to keep his foot on the gas and continue his ruthless pursuit of a Ryder Cup debut next year.

The Greystones star (25) shook off what he perceived was becoming a 'nearly-man' tag by closing with a stunning nine-under-par 61 to win the British Masters by three shots from Rory McIlroy.

But, even after spending 230 days on the road in 2017, turning down a recent offer to play a friendly game with some members and his coach at Augusta National so he could recharge his batteries, he has no intention of resting on his laurels in 2018.

Speaking at the Irish Golf Writers' Awards, where he followed in the footsteps of McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington in being named Professional Player of the Year, the world No 76 said: "I want to just keep moving forward and keep getting better each year.

"I reflect on things I can do better and things I do well so I can keep doing them. I have never been one to get too carried away."

With more wins and a place in Thomas Bjorn's European Ryder Cup team at the top of his wish list for 2018, he's no longer the young amateur who led the 2015 Open at St Andrews but a gutsy competitor who knows how to finish.

"When I first stepped out on tour, people looked at me as the guy who led The Open and then fell away," Dunne said of his meteoric rise.

"In my head, I felt like I had that tag on me for a long time, so it is nice to have the tag as a Tour winner now. I'm not somebody who led a tournament and couldn't win it. I have now proved I can close the door."

Even after banking €1.69m to finish 16th in the Race to Dubai in just his second full season on Tour, he's not sitting back.

Bjorn will also captain Europe in the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia from January 12-14 and Dunne (pictured) will just have time to open his presents before jetting out to Dubai on January 1 to prepare for his professional team debut.

A quick learner with a Harrington-esque mental game - "There is no better role model than Pádraig Harrington for any Irish sportsperson" - his British Masters win opened the doors to some of the game's biggest events in 2018 such as The Open and at least two WGCs.

But it was also a win that gave him some closure, not only on his play-off loss to Edoardo Molinari in April's Trophee Hassan II but for the 2015 Open at St Andrews, where he held the co-lead after 54 holes but shot 78 to trail home tied 30th.

Seeing Molinari finish birdie-eagle to force sudden-death in Morocco before beating him in a play-off was a stark reminder that only the strongest survive on Tour.

"I didn't feel like I did anything wrong but what I took away was that if you want to win, playing OK won't do it," he said. "If you want to close the door, you have to play great.

"After Morocco, I started to realise that the people who were winning, in general, were playing great. They weren't just stumbling over the finish line. They were really bursting through it."

Rather than being intimidated by McIlroy's final-round charge at the British Masters six months later, Dunne (above) played his first six holes in five-under, then came home in 31, making a clutch birdie at the 17th before chipping in on the last to seal a three-shot win.

"I didn't give anyone the opportunity to have a great finish and catch me," he said. "I knew that (Rory) wasn't going to back off. If it were someone else's name, part of me would have thought they weren't going to make the charge that Rory did. So that helped focus me."

Making the Ryder Cup team means he must make winning a habit but with a Masters debut within his grasp if he can make the world's top 50 before the end of March, he's setting his sights sky high.

"They don't pick the Ryder Cup team. You have to qualify for it," he said. "There is a lot of golf to be played between now and then and hopefully, I can give myself a chance between to win some tournaments and have a chance to make the team come September."

Irish Independent

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