Paul Dunne was edged out in his quest for a breakthrough European Tour win in the Trophee Hassan II tournament in Rabat, Morocco, by Italian Edoardo Molinari – losing out at the first hole of a sudden-death playoff – but got sufficient consolation prizes to be aware his upward trending will likely bring a win sooner rather than later.
The positives? A career-best payday of €277,770 enabled the 24-year-old Greystones player to jump into the top-20 in the Race to Dubai standings and also to become the first new Irish player in eight years to move into the top-200 in the official world rankings.
On this occasion, though, Dunne had to play second best to the rejuvenated Molinari, the 36-year-old former World Cup champion who had battled through career-threatening injuries to return to the winner’s podium.
“To be able to win deletes a lot of bad memories and hopefully I can keep going down this road,” said Molinari.
Without a tournament win in six and a half years, Molinari finished birdie-eagle for a closing round of 68 for 283, nine under par, which got him into a playoff with Dunne, who birdied the last for a finishing round of one-under 72. Molinari’s eagle on the 18th in regulation play was the only one recorded in the final round, and just the third in total in the tournament.
Dunne started with a two stroke 54-hole lead and was still two ahead of the chasers through 10 only for Molinari to gatecrash the party. Dunne’s putter had the opportunity down the stretch to save any playoff but, time and time again, he was thwarted: on the 13th and 17th, birdie putts finished on the lip and refused to drop, while his par putt on the 16th horseshoed out.
But it was the driver that would prove to be Dunne’s enemy in the playoff, where – on the Par 5 18th – he pushed his tee shot deep into trees running down the right. With the ball in thick, scraggly rough and his route blocked by trees, he did well to play out through the gap to the left side of the fairway.
Molinari, who found the fairway down the left with his drive, attempted to draw his approach shot around the trees but overdid it and ended up in the left greenside bunker. Then, Dunne’s third shot approach, from the first cut, found a greenside bunker on the right. Molinari’s recovery shot ran through the green, whilst Dunne’s played his fourth to eight feet.
Then, Molinari opted to use a putter from the light greenside rough and putt the ball to 18 inches. It came down to Dunne’s par-saving putt but, again, he was left shaking his head after the ball grazed the cup and slid by. All that was left was for Molinari, without a tournament win since the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles in 2010 and who had regained his tour card at Q-School last November, to hole out to secure victory.
“It just shows that you should never give up, you should always keep trying, keep working hard.I’ve probably been the player who has spent the most time on the driving range over the last three years. This is a great reward for so much hard work,” said Molinari.
Dunne’s runner-up finish moved him from 66th to 20th in the R2D standings and effectively – even at this stage of the season – means he has regained his full tour card, surpassing the total amount won in his rookie season last year.
“I felt like there were just so many shots that slipped away from me,” admitted Dunne. “It’s just one of those days. I felt like I was really close to shooting four or five under and stuck with one under in the end. I’m happy with my form and looking forward to next week. I’m just a bit disappointed not to come out with the result we wanted but it’s a step in the right direction.
In 10 tournaments played so far this season, Dunne has been in the money in eight and has two top-10s.