Paul Dunne flying high on WGC debut in Shanghai

Greystones man just three shots off the lead held by US Open champion Brooks Koepka

Paul Dunne of Ireland plays his tee shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the WGC - HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Paul Dunne of Ireland plays his tee shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the WGC - HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

There’s little substitute in golf for good form – something that was shown perfectly by Tyrrell Hatton two weeks ago in winning back-to-back events at the Dunhill Links and Italian Open – but it’s the long stretch of excellent play from Paul Dunne that is particularly impressive.

It’s now four weeks since the 24-year-old from Greystones claimed his first professional win at the British Masters before following it up with a tied-seventh finish in Scotland and a tie for 26th outside Milan. The win in Newcastle was enough to get him into his first World Golf Championship event at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and he’s taken to the top-table of the game like a duck to water in the no-cut event which carries a first place prize of just under €1.4 million and a guaranteed €36,000 even if you finish dead last.

Nice work if you can get it and, thanks to that Sunday 61 at Close House, Dunne can get it. An opening round of 67 – made up of six birdies and just a single bogey – leaves Dunne in a tie for sixth place at five under, three shots behind US Open champion Brooks Koepka who leads the way.

Dunne, the lone Irishman in the field in China, is beginning a four-week spell of tournaments that could prove to be very valuable indeed as he looks to climb into the top 10 of the Race to Dubai standings in order to claim a share of the bonus prize pool dished out after next month’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, while also setting his sights on the all important top 50 in the world rankings which would give him exemptions to every tournament around the world, including all four majors.

Next week he will travel to Antalya for the Turkish Airlines Open before moving to South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge which proceeds the European Tour finale in Dubai. All three events are, like this week, limited fields with no cuts meaning the potential for earnings is huge. Dunne will then finish his year at the UBS Hong Kong Open – the first event of the 2018 European Tour season – in the last week of November.

But, looking further ahead, he has his sights in becoming the latest in a long line of Irishmen to play in the Ryder Cup with his current standings of third on the European points list and fourth on the world points list setting him up nicely to make his debut in Paris next September, although there’s still a lot of golf to be played before then.

The Wicklow man currently sits 81st in the world rankings and 13th in the Race to Dubai standings but will rocket up both if he can maintain his first round form in Shanghai.

A routine birdie at the par five second hole got him under par early doors before he picked up two more birdies at the par four fifth and the par three sixth.

After going out in three under par, 33, three more birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th had him chasing down the leaders before the only blemish on his card came at the par three 17th due to a frustrating three-putt after a gorgeous tee shot.

A lip-out for birdie at the 18th meant that there was still a feeling of what might have been as he walked off the final green but there’s little wrong with an opening 67 which has him right in contention with three rounds to go.

Koepka – who claimed a first major title at the US Open in Erin Hills last June – carded seven birdies, a bogey and a closing eagle to post a 64, eight under par, and lead by one from Gavin Green and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

One shot further back are the pair of Haydn Porteous and Patrick Reed before the cluster at five under which includes Dunne, Tony Finau, Ashun Wu, Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose.

World number one Dustin Johnson finished with a 68 for four under par after a disappointing bogey six at the par five eight, his 17th.

Collated World Golf Championships — HSBC Champions, Sheshan International GC, Shanghai, China (Gbr & Irl unless stated, par 72):

64 Brooks Koepka

65 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Gavin Green (Mal)

66 Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Patrick Reed

67 Tony Finau, Justin Rose, Paul Dunne, Ashun Wu (Chn), Matt Kuchar

68 Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman, Matthew Southgate, Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Matthew Griffin (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Matthew Fitzpatrick

69 Jason Day (Aus), Adam Hadwin (Can), Chez Reavie, Phachara Khongwatmai (Tha), Chan Kim, David Lipsky, Jordan Smith, Hyun-woo Ryu (Kor)

70 Hudson Swafford, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)

71 Si Woo Kim (Kor), Scott Hend (Aus), Alexander Levy (Fra), Xinjun Zhang (Chn), Bill Haas, Marc Leishman (Aus), Tommy Fleetwood, Zecheng Dou (Chn), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Kyle Stanley, Xander Schauffele, Lucas Glover, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Daisuke Kataoka (Jpn)

72 Pat Perez, S.S.P Chawrasia (Ind), Alex Noren (Swe), Adam Scott (Aus), Yan-wei Liu (Chn), Wen-chong Liang (Chn), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Charles Howell III, Haotong Li (Chn), Peter Uihlein, Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Jon Rahm (Spa), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)

73 Richie Ramsay, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Fabrizio Zanotti (Par), Michael Hendry (Nzl), Poom Saksansin (Tha), Richard Sterne (Rsa)

74 Yi Cao (Chn), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Branden Grace (Rsa), Andrew Dodt (Aus), Ashley Hall (Aus)

75 Russell Henley, Thomas Pieters (Bel), Graeme Storm

77 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Ross Fisher, Wesley Bryan

78 Brandon Stone (Rsa)

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