Michael Hoey has set his sights on what he once thought was the impossible dream - a Ryder Cup cap.
The Ballymoney star, 32, overtook Padraig Harrington in the world rankings when he moved up 13 places to a career high of 90th thanks to his share of 12th in the Qatar Masters .
Now he’s dreaming of a possible appearance in this month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson and a summer charge for Ryder Cup glory.
Ranked just €280,000 outside the automatic Ryder Cup places at ninth in the European Points List, Hoey said: “It’s mad. When you are on the Challenge Tour you think the Ryder Cup is light years away.
“But now that I’m into events like The Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, I have a chance. I’m going to go for it.”
If Hoey remains inside the top 100 he will also get to tee it up in the US PGA at Kiawah Island in August.
But his first task is to clinch a top-three finish in this week’s Dubai Desert Classic and qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson in a fortnight.
He said: “There are big world rankings points in Dubai with Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer playing - that’s two, three and four in the world.
“I probably don’t have to win. A top three could be enough but I just want to contend again and make progress.
“Before I had to play well just to make the cut. But I feel now I have to play quite poorly to miss a cut. ”
Hoey knows how it feels to see off the best in the game and win big.
He held off McIlroy and Graeme McDowell to capture last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links at St Andrews and secure starts in this year’s Open at Royal Lytham and the megabucks WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
Making the Ryder Cup team will require at least one big win but Hoey knows that getting into the biggest events in the game will make it easier to rack up the points and the cash.
Enjoying his move into the major leagues, he said: “It’s unbelievable how important the big events are.
“You could win a small European Tour event and get hardly any world ranking points.
“It’s almost unfair that if you do well in the big ones that you shoot up. It’s almost harder to win a small event than do average in a big tournament but that’s the way it is.”
Hoey finds it “surreal” that he has now overtake Harrington in the rankings to become Ireland’s unofficial No 4 after McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
But he reckons he’s finally finding his feet in the pro ranks.
Daring to dream of Ryder Cup glory, he said: “It’s there in the background and getting into these big event gives me a chance.
“If you had told me a few years ago that you would be a good putter, that I’d understand my swing and become more consistent, I’d have been happy with that.
“But I’ve applied myself well and worked hard on the right stuff. If I continue to do that, who knows.
“There’s a huge summer coming up with the Irish Open, the French, the Open, the Bridgestone and the USPGA.
“My putting feels good since I started working with Phil Kenyon and I’m hitting the left to right shot I couldn’t hit before thanks to my coach Jamie Gough.”
Hoey was hit by a stomach bug in Qatar, which left him feeling drained as he came down the stretch at Doha Golf Club. But he exepcts to be feeling 100 percent when he takes on the Emirates Golf Club this week.
“I ate something last week and got a dodgy stomach which I never get and just ran out of energy on the last few holes,” Hoey said of the back nine bogeys that cost him what had looked like a certain top-10 finish.
“On 14 I didn’t my second hard enough and made bogey from 90 yards with a wedge, it wasn’t nerves. It was nice to feel I was doing something on the course. It’s just good to be out among good players and doing well.”
Hoey will be chasing a €315,531 top prize in Dubai alongside 2009 winner McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin.