By Phil Rice
Victory at the British Masters in September put the icing on the cake for Paul Dunne’s golfing year. The Greystones based professional just managed to retain his playing card in 2016, but last year the 25-year-old took great strides in his development and his victory at the Close House course was the culmination of his efforts.
He held off the challenge of Rory McIlroy on the final day of the tournament with an outstanding round of 61. His world ranking at the conclusion of the year is 76th place and he is the third ranked Irishman behind Rory McIlroy (10) and Shane Lowry (61).
Dunne’s successes couldn’t have come at a better time with 2018 Ryder Cup points up for grabs. He is currently ranked seventh for a place in the team with Lowry placed sixth.
At this early stage, McIlroy is ranked 26th in the table but barring exceptional circumstances, he is considered a certainty for the event at the Golf National in Paris on 25-30 September.
Success at the British Masters was Dunne’s maiden victory on the European Tour, having narrowly lost out in a play-off for the Trophy Hassan in Morocco last April. He demonstrated exceptional coolness during that final round of 61, withstanding a last round onslaught from McIlroy and coming away with a three-shot victory.
“I got a lead early in the final round but I wanted a five-shot lead. I wanted to be so far ahead that nobody could catch me,” he said afterwards.
That sort of single-minded determination could prove very useful if he does manage to make the team for Paris.
Shane Lowry also finished 2017 on a high, with top ten finishes in his final three events. He narrowly lost out on inclusion in the last Ryder Cup team selection and he has set his heart on making no mistake this time. His superb short game would be very useful around the difficult Golf National course.
He is planning on spending the first six months of 2018 based in Florida, and his wife Wendy and recent arrival Iris will make the move with him.
Lowry recently said: “I am going to concentrate full-time on the PGA Tour next year (2018) and see what happens after that. I have been travelling too much and I have not seen enough of the girls and to have them with me most of the time will be nice.”
He will launch his inaugural Florida-based assault on the lucrative PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines starting on 25 January. Tiger Woods is due to take part in the tournament and that is significant for Lowry.
“Tiger was definitely part of the reason I began to play golf,” he said. “When Tiger retuned to play a couple of weeks ago I was mesmerised and found myself watching practically the entire coverage of Tiger’s rounds. I would love to get a tee time alongside him at the Farmers.”
For McIlroy 2017 was a disappointing year as he failed to win a tournament for the first time since 2008. He struggled with a rib injury throughout the season and ended up taking a recuperative break from the sport for the final months of the year.
He replaced long-time caddy JP Fitzgerald during the year with close friend Harry Diamond and intends to persist with him for 2018.
McIlroy is champing at the bit to re-start tournament golf. He is due to begin his campaign with two European Tour events in January – the Abu Dhabi Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic.
He then plans to switch his focus to the PGA Tour, playing five tournaments in six weeks starting at Pebble Beach in February. The US Masters is the only Major to have eluded McIlroy and the 2018 event will be his fourth attempt to complete a career Grand Slam.
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell both have aspirations to make the Ryder Cup team, but currently languishing 149th and 183th in the world rankings respectively they will need to step up their recent form if they are to fulfil those ambitions.
The 23-year old Dubliner Gavin Moynihan recently qualified from the European Tour Q-School and will be a full member of the tour for 2018. Twice a winner of the Irish Amateur Championship, Moynihan has been a member of the last two Walker Cup teams.
His primary target will be to finish the season among the top 125 tour players, to retain his playing rights for the following season.
Key Golf Dates for 2018
April 5-8th – US Masters, Augusta National
May 10-13th – Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass
May 24-27th – BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth, Surrey
June 14-17th – US Open, Shinnecock Hills
July 5-8th – Irish Open, Ballyliffin, Donegal
July 19-22th – British Open, Carnoustie
August 6-12th – 100th USPGA Championship, Bellerive
September 28-30th – Ryder Cup, Le Golf National, Paris