Paul Dunne says winning on British soil was extra sweet
Irishman defends British Masters title this week after claiming his maiden win last year
Paul Dunne of Ireland plays a shot during the Hero Challenge at Canary Wharf in London ahead of the 2018 British Masters. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Irish victories in Britain don’t come too often and Paul Dunne knows it.
His win at last year’s British Masters was particularly sweet, he says, as he prepares for his defence of the title this week.
The Greystones man held off Rory McIlroy at Close House in Newcastle last year, chipping in on the last hole to seal his first professional victory, and this week will look to keep the trophy, albeit at a different venue and with very little form behind him coming in.
Walton Heath in Surrey is the location for this week’s event with the heathland layout set to create a tough test for the strong field which has gathered, thanks mainly to world number two Justin Rose acting as the host.
Dunne has not had a top-10 since April and missed the cut at the Dunhill Links with three rounds of 78, 73 and 73 knocking him down to 51st in the Race to Dubai rankings but he still still relatively comfortably inside the top 60 who will advance to the DP World Tour.
However, a boost in form will be needed if he is to maintain that spot and it could well come this week on the heathland layout in Walton on the Hill where Dunne has previously played in US Open qualifying.
Speaking to europeantour.com on the eve of his defence, Dunne said: “I’d love it. I’d love to keep hold of any trophy to be honest with you. I’m just continuing to work on my things and hopefully it sparks up this week and I can get some good mojo going.
“Any time an Irishman can win on British soil is a good thing. We had quite a lot there the last day last year, as well. Obviously with this being so close to London, I’m assuming a lot of people will turn up, so hopefully I can give them something to cheer about, especially since Paddy (Harrington) is in the field.”
Dunne – who will play the first two rounds alongside potential new world number one Rose and 2016 champion Matt Fitzpatrick – has won € 632,652 in prize money on the European Tour so far this year but could almost double it with a title defence here and also improve on his world ranking which has slipped to 98th.
“I think I had probably a struggle at the start of the season and then I had three months in the middle where I played the best golf I’ve played ever,” he said.
“I’ve fallen away since then and I’m just trying to find those little touches that kind of put you back up because it’s fine margins, you know. I’m not too far away. Hopefully I can find a bit of that what I had in April and May.”
Also hoping to claim Irish victory on British soil are Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry. Harrington recorded his third top seven finish in his last four events last week, continuing a fine resurgence in form and the news that he is now heavy favourite to be named European Ryder Cup captain in 2020, thanks to Lee Westwood’s withdrawal from the race, could act as a further boost.
Two weeks ago Harrington was a vice-captain to Thomas Bjorn in Europe’s regaining of the Ryder Cup in Paris and this week he will now partner the Dane as well as Westwood while the star pairing of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood have also been put together along with conqueror of Jordan Spieth, Thorbjorn Olesen.
The Italian currently leads the Race to Dubai standings and says he is ready to go head-to-head with his Ryder Cup partner for the title of Europe’s number one.
“It’s going to be a little strange to try and beat each other instead of playing as a team,” Molinari said. “Winning the Race to Dubai is the big goal I have, but there’s Tommy and many other guys who are chasing me.
“My back at the end of the Ryder Cup was not great. On Monday, I couldn’t do my shoelaces. I’m not a kid like Tommy. I need to manage my energies and my body.”