Greystones’ Paul Dunne sensationally fired an eagle and six birdies in a second round 65 to top the Final Qualifying for The Open at Woburn and clinch his place at the Old Course.
It’s the second year in a row that the 22-year old University of Alabama Birmingham graduate has topped the qualifiers over the Marquess Course at Woburn, adding his seven under effort to his opening 70 to take top spot by three shots on nine under from Robert Dinwiddie.
"I guess I love this place. Last year was a bit more of a shock because I had no expectations," said Dunne. "This time I knew I could shoot the scores and that put more pressure on me.
""I'm delighted. It's not really sunk it yet, but going to St Andrews will be ultra-special - probably the biggest week of my life."
To put Dunne's performance in perspective, two time US Open winner Retief Goosen had to playoff for the last spot on four under while Colin Montgomerie came up three shots shy on one under.
Goosen, 46, who had only four hours' sleep after spending Monday in Germany following his tied fourth place finish at the BMW International Open, birdied the first extra hole against English pair Adam Gee and Jamie Moul after they had tied on five-under-par.
After missing the cut by two shots at Hoylake last year, Dunne reckons he’ll be better able to handle the demands on a major when he joins Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell at the Old Course from July 16-19.
“I think I will feel a little more comfortable in situations this time,” said Dunne, who shot a 74 in his lone competitive round over the Old Course in last year’s St Andrews Links Trophy.
“I have more experience playing in front of crowds and the NCAAS was a good experience for me playing in front of the TV cameras. Hopefully it will pay off at St Andrews.”
One of Ireland's leading candidates for Walker Cup selection in September, Dunne was one of 10 Irish players teeing chasing 12 spots across four Final Qualifying venues with five of those places eventually going to amateurs.
He almost missed his first round tee time last year because he was unaware that the 10th tee was a bus ride away.
But he arrived there nearly 20 minutes early this time around and while he was struggling on one over with three to play, he finished with three birdies for a 70 that left him just a shot outside the qualifying places with the second round to come.
“I obviously love this course," said Dunne. "I was two over through eight and one over through 15 and finished with three birdies. I looked at the scoreboard and the scoring wasn't as good as I had expected. I saw I was just one outside the number and if I shot five under in the afternoon I should have a good chance.
"I just played well ln the afternoon and apart from a bad drive on the ninth, where i had to pitch out, the rest was good golf. Six birdies and an eagle and I limited the mistakes I made in the morning."
After a birdie at the par-five second, he eagled the seventh by firing a 245-yard two iron to 20 feet and followed that lone bogey at the ninth with birdies at the 11th (chip and putt), 13th (six iron to eight feet), 15th (chip and putt), par-three 17th (seven iron to six feet) and 18th, where his drive ricocheted backwards off a tree and he hit a five iron to seven feet.
"Normally it would be a drive and a wedge," he said with a laugh. "The drive ended up around 160 yards from the tee, so it was an Interesting final hole, but the rest was fairly controlled."
Watched by his brother and some friends, Dunne had his father Colum on his bag, just as he did at Royal Liverpool last year.
And while Dunne Snr joked that has no idea if he will get the job again this year, his son was equally at a loss for words about the thought of teeing it up at the most special Open venue of them all.
“I don’t know how I feel right now.” he said of the thrill of qualifying for The Open again. “I guess it will hit me when I get there and feel the atmosphere.
“I think my head coach at UAB, Alan Murray, tried to qualify for the Old Course in 2005 and missed by one. So hopefully this will give him a boost. Until then I am just focussed winning the European Team Championship with Ireland in Sweden next week and going one better than last year, when we were second.”
While Dunne was celebrating, Mount Juliet's Kevin Phelan (70-71) missed out on a three-way playoff for the last two places at Gailes Links in Scotland by one stroke on one-under par, where Castle amateur Alex Gleeson led the field after a morning 67 only to fade to tied 13th after a 77.
Clontarf's Eamonn Brady also played well, missing out by just three strokes at Hillside, where he finish tied sixth on level par as Rosapenna's Ruaidhri McGee and amateur Gavin Moynihan from The Island retired after opening rounds of 76 and 78 respectively.
Lucan's Richard O’Donovan and Portmarnock amateur Geoff Lenehan came up well short at Royal Cinque Ports leaving Dunne to claim the glory for the second year running.
The former East of Ireland winner was ninth behind Cormac Sharvin in the Brabazon Trophy on Saturday after an erratic back nine featuring three double bogeys he put down to some "immature" and indisciplined golf.
The experience at Notts Golf Club clearly concentrated his mind. Now he's focussed on playing well for Ireland's six-man team in Sweden and making up for last year's defeat to Spain in the final.
With all six members of the team vying for a Walker Cup spot—he's joined by Moynihan, Sharvin, Dermot McElroy, Jack Hume and Gary Hurley—Dunne sees now reason why Ireland can't have a record presence in the Great Britain and Ireland side.
Open Championship, Final Qualifying
Qualifiers: 138 Mark Young (Eng) 68 70; 140 Paul Kinnear (a-Eng) & Ryan Fox (after 3-way playoff with Rhys Davies)
Non-qualifiers: 141 Kevin Phelan (Mt Juliet) 70 71; 142 Alex Gleeson (a-Castle) 67 77; 148 Tim Rice (Limerick) 76 72.
Hillside Golf Club (Par 72)
Qualifiers: 141 Scott Arnold (Aus) 68 73, Jordan Niebrugge (a-USA) 69 72, Pelle Edberg (Swe) 70 71.
Non-qualifiers: 144 Eamonn Brady (Clontarf) 73 71; 152 Michael McGeady (LDN Pharma Ltd) 72 80; RTD Ruaidhri McGee (Rosapenna) 76 RTD; Gavin Moynihan (a-The Island) 78 RTD.
Royal Cinque Ports (Par 71)
Qualifiers: 137 Alister Balcombe (a-Eng) 67 70, Benjamin Taylor (a-Eng) 70 67, Gary Boyd (Eng) 67 70.
Non-qualifiers: 149 Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) 78 71, Geoff Lenehan (a-Portmarnock) 72 77.
Woburn (Marquess’ Course, Par 72)
Qualifiers: 135 Paul Dunne (a-Greystones) 70 65; 138 Robert Dinwiddie (Eng) 70 68; 139 Retief Goosen (after playoff with Adam Gee & Jamie Moul.
Non-qualifiers: 155 David Rawluk (The Island) 79 76.