Paul Dunne made the perfect start to possibly claiming a share of the $5 million bonus pool dished out to the top-10 in the Race to Dubai rankings at the end of the season with a bogey-free five under par opening round of 67 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai to sit two shots behind leader Patrick Reed.
The 24-year-old from Greystones is currently projected to move to 12th on the order of merit with three rounds to go at the European Tour's season finale. At the top of the rankings Justin Rose raced out of the blocks to overtake Tommy Fleetwood in the projected rankings.
Shane Lowry – who, like Dunne, is looking to claim a share of the significant world ranking points on offer at the Earth Course – also made a strong start as he signed for a three under par round of 69.
Dunne is enjoying his best ever season as a professional after claiming a maiden win at the British Masters last month and has gone from strength to strength since. A top-10 finish in the order of merit would cap it off as well as ensuring him of a spot at next year’s British Open.
He has already booked his place at the World Golf Championships in Mexico and Firestone and, if he were to move into the world’s top 64 from his current position of 77th, he would make the field for the WGC World Matchplay Championship in Texas next March. With one tournament to go – next week’s 2018 season opening Hong Kong Open – before he finishes up for the year, there is also still the chance that he could sneak into the top 50 in the world and claim a place at next year’s US Masters.
It would be the perfect end to what has been a busy year for Dunne. Next week’s appearance in Hong Kong will be his 30th tournament of the year in 21 different countries and will complete a run of five tournaments on three different countries. That’s a lot of travelling but it’s paid off – the 24-year-old has earned €1,620,925 so far this year with a cool €1,175,051 on offer for the winner this week, while even last place is guaranteed €20,622.
But, one shot at a time and all that.
On his debut at the Earth Course Dunne carded an early birdie at the par five second before rolling in back-to-back birdies at the seventh and eighth to go out in three under. Further birdies followed at the 13th and 14th before he parred his way in to finish two shots behind the lead after a bogey-free round.
Speaking after the round he said he took the form from his final round at last week’s Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, where he shot 66, into this week.
“Last week I didn’t have much to play for,” said Dunne. “I was out of the tournament so I went for it. This week the course is nice and wide so it felt easier. I hit it nicely and putted nicely.”
For Lowry it’s a case of trying to end a barren year with a win and also possibly sneak into that top 50 in the world, from a current ranking of 85th, to earn a spot at Augusta. The Offalyman finishes his year in Europe this week but will partner Graeme McDowell for the QBE Shootout on the PGA Tour next month.
Birdies at the second, the 11th, the 14th and the 18th, offset only slightly by a single bogey at the 12th, saw him sign for a 69 and head into the second round well-placed just four shots off the lead.
At the top of the leaderboard Reed carded a flawless round of 65 which saw him rack up five birdies on the back nine to lead by one from Australia's Scott Hend.
“I feel like the hard work I did with my coach right after Mexico (the OHL Classic) really paid off coming to this week,” Reed, the world number 23, said.
“I felt like the swing was right where it needed to be and I woke up this morning and had this really awful pain in my back, close to my shoulder.
“The warm-up wasn’t how I wanted. I was kind of spraying it and then my caddie just looked at me and reminded me, ‘Hey, you’re a gamer, not a range guy. Let’s get off to a good start, hit some fairways and hit some greens.‘
“Any time you can start birdie, birdie it gets you started and I was able to right the ship and make some putts and hit some good shots.”
With the Race to Dubai title to be decided this week there is little to separate rankings leader Fleetwood and his nearest challenger Rose in the order of merit.
Fleetwood, who held a lead of 256,738 points over Rose at the start of the week, seemed to be feeling the pressure as he double-bogeyed the first hole and dropped another shot on the third.
However, the 26-year-old from Southport steadied the ship with a birdie on the fifth before a superb approach to the par-five seventh set up an eagle from eight feet.
But Rose, who went through the front nine in one under, turned up the heat on his playing partner with birdies at the 10th and 11th to get to three under, while Fleetwood slipped back to one over with a bogey at the 13th.
And then came some Rose magic. After missing the green in two at the par five 14th, the former US Open champion holed out from the bunker for eagle to move to five under, while Fleetwood made his birdie to get back to level par.
A further bogey from Fleetwood and a birdie from Rose at the 18th set the more experienced man – who comes into this week after consecutive wins in his last two events – in perfect position just one shot behind the lead at six under, while Fleetwood languishes back in a tie for 46th at one over.
While there are still three rounds to go, Rose is already projected to overtake Fleetwood and earn the title of European number one.
Scores from the European Tour World Tour Championship at the Earth Course (par 72):
-7: Patrick Reed (U.S.) 65
-6: Scott Hend (Australia) 66 Justin Rose (Britain) 66
-5: Alexander Levy (France) 67 Paul Dunne (Ireland) 67 Matthew Fitzpatrick (Britain) 67 Alexander Bjork (Sweden) 67 Ryan Fox (New Zealand) 67 Fabrizio Zanotti (Paraguay) 67
-4: Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium) 68 Martin Kaymer (Germany) 68 Julian Suri (U.S.) 68 Andy Sullivan (Britain) 68 David Horsey (Britain) 68 Soren Kjeldsen (Denmark) 68
-3: Pablo Larrazabal (Spain) 69 Shane Lowry (Ireland) 69 Francesco Molinari (Italy) 69 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) 69 Jon Rahm (Spain) 69
-2: Sergio Garcia (Spain) 70 Ian Poulter (Britain) 70 Paul Waring (Britain) 70 Haydn Porteous (South Africa) 70 Dean Burmester (South Africa) 70 George Coetzee (South Africa) 70 David Lipsky (U.S.) 70 Chris Wood (Britain) 70 Andrew Dodt (Australia) 70 Michael Lorenzo-Vera (France) 70 Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) 70
-1: Matthieu Pavon (France) 71 Adrian Otaegui (Spain) 71 Richard Sterne (South Africa) 71 Wang Jeunghun (Korea) 71 Dylan Frittelli (South Africa) 71 Bernd Wiesberger (Austria) 71 Peter Uihlein (U.S.) 71 Ross Fisher (Britain) 71
Even: Tyrrell Hatton (Britain) 72 Branden Grace (South Africa) 72 Li Haotong (China) 72 Callum Shinkwin (Britain) 72 Richie Ramsay (Britain) 72 Marc Warren (Britain) 72
+1: Hideto Tanihara (Japan) 73 Joost Luiten (Netherlands) 73 David Drysdale (Britain) 73 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spain) 73 Tommy Fleetwood (Britain) 73
+2: Thorbjorn Olesen (Denmark) 74 Alexander Noren (Sweden) 74 Thomas Pieters (Belgium) 74
+3: Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark) 75 Eddie Pepperell (Britain) 75 Victor Dubuisson (France) 75 Lee Westwood (Britain) 75 Jordan Smith (Britain) 75
+4: Scott Jamieson (Britain) 76 Graeme Storm (Britain) 76