McGrane makes peace with retirement as young guns step forward: "Guys like me have to step out of the way and let them off"

McGrane makes peace with retirement as young guns step forward: "Guys like me have to step out of the way and let them off"

Damien McGrane is ready to step aside

Damien McGrane wants to keep his pride and retire from the European Tour this week as a new generation of ultra-talented tour stars battles for a place in the sun.

The 44-year old from Kells, 168th in the Race to Dubai and needing a Top 2 finish in the Portugal Masters to keep his card after 13 seasons, believes he'd only be delaying the inevitable, even if he got a shock result this week.

A four under par, bogey free 67 left the 2008 Volvo China Open winner tied for 12th, just three shots off the pace set by 64 shooters Andy Sullivan and Nicolas Colsaerts.

But in an age when players are regularly hitting the ball 30 yards past him and after making just 11 of 29 cuts this year (and just 29 from 61 events in the last two years), he's ready to walk off into the sunset with his dignity intact and leave the stage to the likes of Greystones' rookie Paul Dunne, who is 21 under for his first nine rounds as a pro after a three under 68 yesterday.

Winner of €5 million in prize money with one win and four runner up finishes from his 396 European Tour starts, McGrane said: "I have had a great run. The European Tour has been very, very good to me considering I started playing tour golf at 31 years of age. So I have had a great innings and I appreciate everything I have got out of the game."

Asked by European Tour Radio's Nick Dye if his mind was really  made up to quit at the end of the season, McGrane said: "Oh, absolutely. It's been made up a while. But I still want to keep my own self respect and go out and compete as best I can. I don't want to let myself down either because I still want to compete.
"But it is a different game today that it was when I started 15 years ago and the players now are getting younger and more powerful and I am getting older and shorter and my belly is getting bigger and it is not going to change." 

Needing a top-two finish to keep his card, but as his friends have been indicating for several months, McGrane dismissed changing his mind, even if he pulls it off.

"No. No. No. Because next week it is not going to be any different. I am going to be starting off from the lowest of the low position compared to the ability and the talent of the young players now. And every week I play I realise I am probably slipping further and further out of touch.
"And it is great to see. The game is in good hands and there are so many brilliant players. And in order for these guys to get their opportunity on the big tour, guys like me have to step out of the way and let them off. That's how I got my start back in 2003, by somebody losing their card. It has  been very good to me and I have never lost my card. I will be 45 after Christmas and I am absolutely happy with what I have got." 

Asked if he had plans for the future, he showed his trademark sense of humour and said: 

"No, I have no plans. I am going to go home and watch the Discovery Channel for a few months and then maybe someday I will have a vision and I will make a good decision. But I am not going to rush into anything because sure as hell. I will make a wrong decision. So I am going to take it easy for a while. And I won't come back as a caddie either. I am not able to carry my own golf bag, never mind anybody else's."

As for his 67, which featured birdies at the second and ninth and an eagle three at the 17th, he said: "I'm happy. I holed a few putts early on and chipped in for eagle at the 17th so it's a nice start.

"I hit five wood second shot just over the green into the very heavy rough and attempted to play a chip and run and managed to play it perfect. It ran across the green and straight into the hole from maybe 35 feet. 

"I've enjoyed it all year. I didn't play well this year. But I enjoyed the travelling, I enjoyed the companionship. I've no problem with my position and .... step aside. Like, I played with Ben Stow today and it's light and day between what I do and what he does. So to be honest I feel like I should get out of the way and let the big guns fire."

It won't be easy for players like Dinne tp break though, even if he has won nearly €90,000 in two weeks.

Dunne played alongside Portugal's Ricardo Santos (69) and two time PGA Championship winner Anders Hansen (68), who is also retiring after this event. 

And while he said he was happy with his three under 68, it could have been so much lower for Dunne after he scorched through his first eight holes in a superb, six under par with an eagle two at his opening hole the highlight.

The Greystones native, who is now representing the Hartl Resort in Germany, holed his 52 degree wedge approach for an eagle two at his opening hole (the 10th) and then birdied the 11th, 14th, 15th and 17th before a pulled drive into the lake at the 18th and a cold putter told the story of the rest of his day.

The drive cost him a double bogey six while his homeward nine featured eight pars and a lone bogey five at the tough, 510-yard seventh that cost Pádraig Harrington a triple bogey seven in a rollercoaster 71 later in the day.

 "I hit a good drive down there and I had 104 yards to the flag and I just hit a low 52 degree and it took one hop and straight in the hole so it was an easy way to start," Dune told Sky Sports. "I didn't have to make a putt. Then on the second I holed a 40 footer for birdie.

"Then for the rest of the day the putter dried up a little bit but it was nice to make a good start."

On the bad drive on the 18th, he said: "The wind was off the left and I really didn't commit to any form of a shot and was just aiming rather than picking the shape of shot to hit so I just hit a low pull that never crossed and I had to re-tee, so that was one of my bad swings today.

"I made three bad swings and they cost me two shots so that was unfortunate. But there was a lot of great golf played before that and I was pretty happy with 68."

An impressive 21 under par for his first nine rounds since turning professional, Dunne added: "The three of us in our group played really well all day. I think all three of us just hut one bad tee shot which led to two doubles and a triple between the three of us, which didn't really reflect how we played. 

"Anders was talking about finishing his career. He's been out there a long time and he's ready to be done."

As for his own plans, Dunne is targeting a Top 10 finish and a place in Hong Kong next week as he bids to win enough cash to earn his card from invitations.

"Next week, I'll play in Hong Kong if I finish in the Top 10 here. Otherwise it will be just a week off to prepare for Q-School." 

Asked by Andrew Coltart how he had made such a smooth transition to the professional ranks, Dunne said: "Playing in two Opens I think helped a lot. You get used to the environment, the crowds, the cameras. especially doing well in The Open this summer, nothing the last couple of weeks has been anything on the attention I got that week.

"It's been easy to adjust. Once i get out on the golf course, it's just golf again like any other week as an amateur. So I have been playing quite well so it is always easy to make an adjustment when you are playing okay."

McGrane is not the only Irish player in danger of losing his card. Peter Lawrie, who is making his 16th appears of the season on an invitation after losing his card last year, is tied 98th on two over with two holes of his first round to complete on Friday.

Michael Hoey shot 74 and Darren Clarke a level par 71 as Harrington joined Kevin Phelan on 70 thanks to an eagle at the 17th.

The Dubliner bogeyed the first, pitched close to birdie the par-five fifth and rolled in a 12 footer at the sixth to get to one under.

But he drove into the lake at the seventh and then took three to get down from just off the green, lipping out from around three and a half feet for double bogey.

He stiffed his approach to the ninth and then eagled the 17h to salvage the day but it was still a slow start on a course where 67 players broke par despite slow greens and some heavy rough.