Golf can be as fickle as the weather on a spring day at Rosses Point. Just ask Paul Cutler, the newly-minted winner of the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Championship or the man his vanquished without having to break sweat on a balmy day at a sun-kissed links.
The stocky 22-year old from Portstewart might have ended a 10-year wait to see the leading qualifier crowned champion, but while he cruised to a comfortable 4 and 2 win over his friend, regular room-mate and fellow international Alan Dunbar in the first all-Ulster final for 28 years, he certainly didn’t see it coming.
The faithful from the host club turned out in their droves in the hope of seeing 29-year old Ballincar man Gary McDermott become the first Co Sligo winner since the legendary Cecil Ewing clinched the last of his ten wins 61 years ago.
One up with four to play, McDermott lost the 15th when he failed to find the green in five, took two to get out of a bunker at the 16th to go one down and then putted off the precipitous 17th green when struggling for his par to eventually lose 2 and 1.
“I played terrible this morning which is probably a good thing,” Cutler said afterwards. “I got all the bad golf out of the way and I just knew I needed to play better against Alan and started raising my game.”
Had he looked back at Dunbar, Cutler might not have bothered to turn up for the final so impressive was wiry 20-year old’s 4 and 3 win over Muskerry’s Niall Gorey.
The reigning Irish Amateur Open and North of Ireland champion played and putted like a man possessed as he raced to the turn in six under par 30 thanks to birdies at the first, third, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth.
“It was the best display I have ever seen,” said a shell-shocked Gorey. “I was two under after nine and four down.”
Dunbar made his seventh birdie of the morning at the 12th to go seven under and five up and while he bogeyed the 13th, he was confident heading into the final.
The international pair are frequent room mates and had shared rooms all week at the local hotel. But in the final Cutler looked like the man who felt more thoroughly at home.
Dunbar’s silky putting touch abandoned him completely and he would crucially rack up four three-putts in a match he never led at any stage
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose like that,” said Dunbar, who was one over par to Cutler’s two under. “I never gave him a fight. I think I ran out of birdies. I didn’t hit any good shots this afternoon. I was awful.”
Two up after Dunbar three-putted both the third and fourth from more than 60 feet, Cutler lost the fifth to an eagle three but saw his two hole lead restored at the eighth where his opponent three-putted again, lipping out from inside three feet for par.
They halved the 10th in birdies before Cutler three-putted the 11th to see his lead cut to one hole. But it was only a minor set back.
The Portstewart star won the 12th with a two-putt birdie four to go two up again after Dunbar misjudged his five-iron approach and came up well short.
And he was soon three up when he won the 13th against the head by getting up and down for par from the front bunker, landing a psychological blow with a brave seven foot putt
Dunbar erred badly there, for having knocked his 25 foot birdie chance six feet past, he badly pulled his attempt at salvaging a half and he was never the same again.
Cutler bravely saved par from seven feet to halve the 14th and while he lipped out from just 18 inches for par and the title on the 15th, he was conceded a 10 foot par putt and the match at the par-three 16th when Dunbar’s chip ran past the flag and off the green and he failed to convert his par attempt.
Beaten in the 2007 final by Joe Lyons, Cutler went on to win the East of Ireland title in 2009 with last year’s Lytham Trophy win putting him in the frame for Walker Cup selection this September.
“This gives my season a kick start. With the Walker Cup later in the year, I need to play solid in England as well,” said Cutler who will begin his defense of the Lytham Trophy on Friday. “It’s definitely is a good way to start the year, especially going to Lytham, where I’m defending as well. I may be tired but I’m sure we’ll be able to get over that.”
West of Ireland Amateur Championship sponsored by Radisson Blu, Co Sligo GC
Paul Cutler (Portstewart) bt Gary McDermott (Co Sligo) 2/1;
Alan Dunbar (Rathmore) bt Niall Gorey (Muskerry) 4/3.
Final: Paul Cutler bt Alan Dunbar 4/2.