Dunne and McGrane poised to graduate at Q-School
Paul Dunne, accompanied by a representative from his management company (centre left), walks off the 18th at PGA Catalunya Resort's Stadium Course towards the recorders hut following his three under 69 in the fifth round of Q-School, 18 November 2015.

Paul Dunne, accompanied by a representative from his management company (centre left), walks off the 18th at PGA Catalunya Resort's Stadium Course towards the recorders hut following his three under 69 in the fifth round of Q-School, 18 November 2015.

Paul Dunne shrugged off some “ropey” swings to caress his European Tour card and a dream finish to a magical year at the Qualifying School in Spain.

The Greystones ace (22), dug deep to card a bogey-free, three under 69 in the fifth round of the gruelling Final Stage to jump six places to tied 12th in the race to finish among the top 25 and ties ahead of today’s final round on the tough Stadium Course at PGA Catalunya Resort.

Even though he’s contemplating semi-retirement, Kells grinder Damien McGrane (44) is also in position to win back his card after a trademark 72 left him tied 18th on eight under

“I am delighted with the 69 considering how I played,” said Dunne, who hit a five-iron to two feet at the 208-yard fifth and two putted from the fringes of the seventh and 12th for birdie fours to end the day seven strokes off the lead on 10 under par.

“I hit a lot of ropey shots out there so to keep a bogey off the card was a goal of mine and I was happy to do that.”

Dunne insists he’s feeling no pressure but after some loose swings on the last few holes he admitted he’s keen to get home and rest before contemplating the possibility of playing two 2016 season events in South Africa and Australia before Christmas if he wins his card today (Thurs). 

“It’s been a really long year but I am enjoying the week and looking forward to getting back to my bed,” add Dunne, who will partner Swedish amateur Marcus Kinhult (19) and Italian Francesco Laporta in the sixth and final round.

Pinching himself after a dream season that saw him lead The Open through 54 holes and win the Walker Cup with four Irish team mates by his side, Dunne said: “A year ago my main goal was to get through Q-School, so everything that has happened in the meantime has been a nice bonus and I have tried to take it in my stride as well as I can. 

“It is beyond what I would have pictured at the start of the year but I am not going to step back from any opportunities that arise. It’s been a great year but it is not finished yet. I have  a few weeks left.” 

McGrane admitted he “got bitten in the a**e” at the par-three fifth, where he made a double bogey after finding the water, just 24 hours after chipping in there for birdie.

“I can’t complain, it probably evened itself out,” McGrane said of his day.

His aggression on the greens cost him a brace of three-putt bogeys, but he also had four birdies and remains in position to win back his card as he fell just four spots to tied 18th on eight under par, one shot inside the crucial top 25 and ties.

Newcastle, Co Down based Simon Thornton and Mount Juliet’s Kevin Phelan had no luck on the greens and appear to have definitively kissed their chances goodbye after rounds of 74 and 75 respectively saw them fall back to 68th on level par.

Phelan made three birdies but a couple of his six bogeys came from sloppy three putts and he was on the practice green long after his round.

Thornton played well but lost a ball on his approach to the par-five 12th and found it after the five minutes had elapsed, just a few yards from the spotter, on the edge of the rough.

A bogey there and a double bogey at the 14th left him playing catch up and while he got two shots back before the turn, he dropped another shot and made nothing on the greens, though he hit the ball well and struck solid putts. 

At the top of the leaderboard, former European Tour winner Ross McGowan (64) and American Daniel Im (66) lead by three strokes on 17 under par from South Africans Ulrich Van Den Berg (69) and Jean Hugo (72) and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui (71).

Ross McGowan. Picture by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Ross McGowan. Picture by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The European Tour writes:

McGowan enjoyed four successful years on The European Tour, finishing 12th in The 2009 Race to Dubai, before losing his card after the 2011 season, and his bogey-free round – which included a miraculous recovery shot from a path on the 17th – means he can dare to dream of the big time once again.

“I was frustrated yesterday when I shot 73,” said the 33 year old. “I didn’t hit the ball very well tee to green but fortunately holed a few putts, and today I really focused on finding the fairways and finding the greens and just let it happen.

“I hit a couple close on 14 and 15, a couple of five irons in there to probably less than six feet combined, so that makes it quite nice when you can go birdie-eagle and just separate yourself a bit.

“I think I’m drawing on my past experience from 2007 through 2011 when I had my European Tour card. The last few years I’ve had several injuries and that’s been frustrating but the last four or five weeks the game’s been there and I’ve been playing nicely.

“It would mean a lot to be back on The European Tour. It’s been tough these last few years. I’ve not really thought of giving up but it’s just frustrating, not really playing that great, having injuries and lay-offs, trying to come back and just trying to motivate yourself every time you turn up at a tournament, it’s pretty tough.

“It would mean a lot to get back out there and start competing with the top guys and try to get myself back up to where I was and hopefully surpass it in the World Rankings.”

Im came into the week on the back of the disappointment of missing out on a European Tour card through the European Challenge Tour, dropping out of the top 15 of the Road to Oman Rankings on the final day of the season at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final.

The 30 year old is yet to enjoy full playing status on The European Tour but today’s round, featuring six birdies and an eagle, has put him in a strong position with 18 holes to play.

“I’m hitting it really well,” said the Californian. “It’s quite a bit of a ball-striking course, you just have to put yourself in position to have a birdie putt, the greens are quite soft so it’s quite easy to hit it close to the hole and I’ve been pretty lucky with that this week.

“Passive-aggressive is the word I like to use in a situation like this. The Stadium is a tough course – today I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot and ended up making a double on 13, and it could happen like that. You really have to be focused and make sure you execute your shots.

“This will be a huge gift to finish the year and start a new year. It would mean a lot because one year I played with a conditional status and I didn’t get into very big events.

“I played quite well but I wasn’t really close to keeping my card with that limited amount of tournaments and hopefully finishing high here will give me a good position on a category where I could play and get into some big events.”

Notable moves on the penultimate day came from Australian Jason Scrivener, whose fine 67 moved him to 11 under par, and Englishman Richard McEvoy, whose bogey-free 68 took him inside the top 25 by one shot.

His compatriot Matthew Southgate, meanwhile, matched him with a round of four under par as he seeks to close out a difficult year, during which he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, with a fairytale return to The European Tour.

Ireland’s Paul Dunne – familiar to millions after leading The Open Championship this year as an amateur heading into the final round – had a tidy round of 69 to finish on ten under par and within sight of a maiden season on The Race to Dubai.

Among those with work to do in the final round is Italian Edoardo Molinari, the former Ryder Cup star currently on four under par and in need of a big move if he wants to extend his six-year stay on The European Tour.

European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage, PGA Catalunya Resort (Tour Course, Par 70; Stadium Course, Par 72), Girona

After 90 holes (5th round of 6)

339 D Im (USA) 70 68 65 70 66; R McGowan(Eng) 69 69 64 73 64;

342 A Otaegui(Esp) 74 63 62 72 71; U Van Den Berg(RSA) 72 64 66 71 69; J Hugo(RSA) 65 71 67 67 72;

343 C Hanson (Eng) 70 63 66 71 73;

344 M Southgate (Eng) 72 66 68 70 68; J Knutzon (USA) 67 68 66 72 71; 

345 D Gavins (Eng) 71 65 66 68 75; J Scrivener (Aus) 65 72 70 71 67; N Bertasio (Ita) 71 68 66 71 69; 

346 L Canter (Eng) 67 69 68 74 68; P Dunne (Irl) 71 68 70 68 69; M Kinhult (am) (Swe) 66 67 65 76 72; 

347 F Laporta (Ita) 69 68 67 74 69; L Jensen (Den) 70 66 67 72 72; C Costilla (Arg) 68 71 68 68 72; 

348 R McEvoy (Eng) 66 74 69 71 68; J Robinson (Eng) 72 69 64 71 72; D McGrane (Irl) 71 68 66 71 72; N Ravano (Ita) 75 65 65 72 71; G King (Eng) 64 72 64 74 74; D Papadatos (Aus) 67 70 65 76 70; 

349 R Finch (Eng) 69 66 70 73 71; M Palmer (RSA) 63 71 68 75 72; P Oriol (Esp) 70 73 69 69 68; D Dixon (Eng) 72 68 64 71 74; W Besseling(Ned) 68 71 68 72 70; C Berardo (Fra) 76 64 63 77 69; D Gaunt (Aus) 68 74 69 70 68; 

350 N Cullen (Aus) 61 73 66 78 72; L Nemecz (Aut) 67 65 66 80 72; J Loughrey (Eng) 72 72 69 69 68; J Walters (RSA) 68 73 69 73 67; J Guerrier(Fra) 69 70 66 72 73; 

351 J Hahn (USA) 71 74 69 68 69; H Joannes(Bel) 66 70 68 73 74; R Evans(Eng) 67 72 70 73 69; D Law (Sco) 67 72 68 72 72; F Fritsch(Ger) 68 69 66 75 73; J White (Eng) 68 74 73 67 69; 

352 M Foster (Eng) 71 68 67 73 73; S Manley (Wal) 66 74 69 74 69; R Saxton (Ned) 74 72 71 66 69; H Porteous (RSA) 65 72 74 68 73; P Shields (Sco) 67 70 68 77 70; E Molinari(Ita) 66 77 71 68 70;

353 S Soderberg (Swe) 74 69 73 67 70; M Jonzon (Swe) 68 70 65 74 76; P Widegren(Swe) 71 73 72 67 70; C Sordet(Fra) 71 66 64 77 75; R Fox (Nzl) 68 77 71 64 73; A Karlsson(Swe) 67 73 69 73 71; D Lloyd (RSA) 64 74 69 76 70; F Bergamaschi (Ita) 67 65 75 75 71;

354 S Arnold(Aus) 70 71 69 71 73; C Ford (Eng) 71 71 73 67 72; A Hartø(Den) 72 68 68 74 72; P Whiteford (Sco) 74 70 67 68 75; K Ferrie (Eng) 70 69 64 77 74; J Lima(Por) 74 70 72 66 72;

355 E Goya (Arg) 73 63 69 73 77; M Delpodio(Ita) 72 67 69 73 74; P Hedblom (Swe) 69 74 73 67 72; M Nixon (Eng) 72 76 68 67 72; D Foos (Ger) 74 70 69 68 74; L Gagli(Ita) 71 71 72 68 73;

356 G Axell (Swe) 74 68 75 66 73; S Thornton (Irl) 71 67 73 71 74; M Pavon (Fra) 67 68 71 74 76; K Phelan (Irl) 70 72 66 73 75; D Burmester (RSA) 74 67 69 71 75; 

357 D Bransdon (Aus) 72 71 72 67 75; M Lafeber (Ned) 74 66 65 78 74; S Fernandez (am) (Esp) 64 72 67 79 75;

358 J Dantorp (Swe) 66 71 71 75 75;

359 P Howard(Eng) 73 67 68 75 76; 

363 O Stark (Swe) 77 65 71 70 80.