Even with the intense heat of Rory McIlroy baring down, 24-year-old Greystones golfer Paul Dunne held his nerve to close out the final day of the British Masters.
Dunne showed no sign of fracture even with the four-time major winner McIlroy challenging him to go low with his 7-under for the day. And so he did.
Dunne responded with a breathless nine under par, overall three shots clear of McIlroy, whose final 63 was the lowest score of an injury-plagued season, which will come to a self-imposed end next week.
“Any time you can go up against Rory McIlroy and beat him, it’s pretty much a dream,” said Dunne.
A sprinkler head that kicked Dunne’s ball back on to the green to within five feet at the 11th hole and a chip in on the 18th decorated a majestic show of courage and poise to produce one of the best rounds of his career for his first European Tour win.
To those who have followed Dunne's golfing path it was justice served on a perfect day in Newcastle as the Wicklow golfer had come so close in April when he lost in a play-off to Edoardo Molinari in the Hassan Trophy.
To a wider audience Dunne sprang to prominence after sharing the 54-hole lead in the 2015 British Open Championship while still an amateur.
But on Sunday there was no falling away. Rather Dunne came out blazing and gilded his card with seven birdies and an eagle in a closing 61 to finish 20 under par.
“I feel like I’ve played pretty consistently all year, and I’ve given myself a few chances on Sunday to make a move and contend and haven’t really been able to put the foot down,” said Dunne.
“That was my focus today, to get off to a hot start, and once I got my nose in front to just keep pushing, because you never know what happens.
“I woke up this morning and said I am going to try and go out and win it rather than someone else handing it to me. Thankfully I did that and hopefully I can do it again.”
Morocco was at the forefront of his mind, he admitted, when he received the trophy and the biggest cheque of his career, the €562,500 first prize.
“I think I’d a couple of shots lead there [Hassan Trophy] as well and then Eduardo finished birdie, eagle so I was waiting for the leader board to go to McIlroy with a hole in one at the last or something . . . yeah I’ve come close so it’s finally nice to close the deal.”
The victory comes in his 51st appearance and moves Dunne to 1,296,408 points in the Race to Dubai and into 12th place from 34th.
It could also see him rise to inside the top 90 in the Official World Golf Ranking from 192nd.
Three-time major winner Pádraig Harrington was one of the first to tweet his congratulations. “Great day for Irish golf. A new winner on tour @dunners11. Hopefully the first of many for the next generation of young Irish golfers,” said Harrington.
Dunne had said after his round on Saturday that if the weather remained dry there would be plenty of chances to shoot a low score in the final round.
“I think you have to be at least 15- or 16-under, so I have to shoot 4- or 5-under minimum. To shoot that, you have to attack,” he had predicted.
So he did and with the courage of his convictions Dunne birdied the first hole, made par on two and three before going birdie and eagle, taking a three at the par five 6th hole.
Dunne didn’t drop any shots and solidly built his score with three more birdies on the back nine before chipping in from just off the green at the 18th.
“I had a great break on 11. I pulled my wedge shot and it should have been long. Hit the sprinkler, kicked back and I made birdie. Can’t script that,” he said.
“I made a great save on 12, and then I played pretty steady coming in. I gave myself chances, missed a couple. Made a great putt on 17 to kind of seal it, and obviously it was a nice highlight at the last.”
Dunne's score of 126 (-14) over the last two rounds is the lowest closing 36 hole for a first-time European Tour win since David Llewellyn in 1987. He is now the 15th Irish golfer to win on the European Tour.
Throughout, he was constantly aware of McIlroy in his rear-view mirror. But Dunne saw it as a motivation more than a threat to his first win.
"Yeah, definitely, because I think when I was looking at the leaderboard, the two people closest would have been Rory and Robert Karlsson because he had more holes to play than the other guys on 14 and 15-under," said Dunne.
“But I knew I could keep an eye on him because I was playing with him, and then Rory, I kind of assumed he would birdie 16 or 17. He birdied both.
“Yeah, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” he added. “I can’t wait to go home and see my girlfriend and see my family and celebrate with them.”
Shane Lowry also finished seventh making it three Irish golfers in the top seven. Dunne's career prize money to date now sits at €1,648,212.