Dunne targets McIlroy-esque start to pro career; heading for Woburn and Portugal after Dunhill debut

Dunne targets McIlroy-esque start to pro career; heading for Woburn and Portugal after Dunhill debut

Rory McIlroy all but earned his tour card by finishing third in the Alfred Dunhill Links in his second start just three weeks after turning pro. Now it's Paul Dunne's chance to grab a golden opportunity with both hands but while he knows he has the game to contend at St Andrews having grabbed all the headlines in The Open, he also knows there's only one Rory.

Fresh from cruising through the First Stage of Q-School alongside Jack Hume in Austria last week, the 22-year-old Greystones man makes his European Tour debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links on the back of a Walker Cup victory and a lot of hype.

He's joined in the field for the €5 million pro-am by Walker Cup team-mates Gary Hurley, Jimmy Mullen and Ashley Chesters, but he's also keeping his expectations in check as he looks forward to three straight starts on the European Tour with invitations for the British Masters and Portugal Masters also in the bag.

“You can offer me anything that Rory’s done and I’ll take it,” Dunne said when asked if he ambitions to emulate McIlroy's third place finish of 2007. “I can play well enough to contend this week so it’s obviously achievable.

“I can’t say I will or I won’t, but obviously what Rory has done has been quite inspiring. He’s definitely a role model for everyone in Irish golf. I’m sure many people have aspirations to do what he did.”

Having become the first amateur to lead the Open Championship after 54 holes since Bobby Jones in 1927 only to fade to tied 30th, the world No 942 will be playing in his first professional non-major knowing he has a lot of game and a lot to learn.

He told The Scotsman he had thought long and hard about the good and the bad of The Open, 

“Yeah, a lot more than you imagine,” he replied to being asked if he often reflected on how things had panned out for him then. “I look back in a lot of different ways.
“There’s obviously some things I could improve going forward - how I handled myself in the last round and the shots I hit.
“But it’s important not just to look back on the negative things as there were also things I can be proud of. I played a lot of great golf that week and also prepared really well for the tournament.”

On his invitations, he said: “I’m grateful to the European Tour because they have been really generous. It’s a great opportunity for me and hopefully I can make the most of it over the next three weeks.”

It's also a huge week for West Waterford and Maynooth University star Hurley, who was on the other side of the ropes last year, watching Rory McIlroy and also came through the First Stage of Q-School with flying colours.

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His Walker Cup team mate, Cormac Sharvin, is still an amateur and he's caddying yet again for JP McManus's brother Gerry before heading to Mount Wolseley for the Volopa Irish Challenge.

Ireland has 11 players in the field with Peter Lawrie getting another invitation and another chance to regain his card in an event where he has never fared particularly well.

Kevin Phelan and Damien McGrane also needs a big weeks as  Q-School looks large while WGC Bridgestone Invitational winner Shane Lowry is playing for the first time since the US PGA and like Michael Hoey, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, he'll have his sights set on Race to Dubai qualifying cash as well as Ryder Cup qualifying points for Darren Clarke's 2016 team,

Elsewhere, Martin Kaymer believes he is just a whisker away from a first victory of the season as he returns to the venue where he won in 2010, writes the European Tour.

A runner-up finish, in 2008, and seventh place, in 2013, also feature on Kaymer’s glittering CV, giving him even more reason to love returning to St Andrews Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie, the tremendous triumvirate of links golf which make up the prestigious US$5million event.

“It's a golf course and a golf tournament I look forward to every year,” said the German, who was second in the Open d’Italia a fortnight ago. “It’s a place I enjoy and that I’m very passionate about. If you love golf, you can’t not love coming to this place. Playing golf is like an art here – you have to be very creative and play all sorts of different shots.

“I’ve been playing very well recently and the only thing missing is a win. It feels very close. I need to work on little things here and there, but nothing I need to worry about. It’s hard to win golf tournaments, it doesn’t matter how big the tournament is. You need a bit of luck and sometimes you get it.”