Dunne chasing maiden win in just sixth European Tour start as a pro
Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne insists he'll be targeting his maiden win rather than one of the three Open Championship exemptions on offer when he heads out in the final round of the Joburg Open just two shots off the lead.

"There will be plenty of other chances to qualify for the Open and I have a decent track record in Open qualifying so hopefully tomorrow can add to the Open qualifiers I've played the last few years," Dunne said after a four under 68 left him tied for fourth on 13 under at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

"First and foremost I am here for the tournament that is in it, the Joburg Open. I am just going to concentrate on doing as well as I can and the rest will take care of itself." 

After surging into contention with a sensational, eight under 63 on Friday, the 23-year old targeted a four under 68 in round three and pulled it off by notching his seventh birdie of the day at the 18th on Royal Johannesburg and Kensington's East Course.

The Greystones rookie finds himself in a four-way tie for fourth, just two strokes behind co-leaders Anthony Wall (68) of England and South African pair Zander Lombard (65) and Haydn Porteous (68).

Paul Dunne prepares to execute a tricky flop shot during his third round

Paul Dunne prepares to execute a tricky flop shot during his third round

And while he knows anything could happen in the final round with the top 17 on the leaderboard covered by just six shots, a victory would make him one of the most precocious Irish winners in tour history.

Disappointed to bogey the 17th but pleased to hit the 18th in two and two putt for a comfortable closing birdie, Dunne was not getting too carried away about his position heading into the final round.

"A lot can happen over 18 holes but it's nice to be in with a chance," he told European Tour Radio. "I am just going to get a bit of practice done and hopefully I can start off tomorrow like I did today and actually keep it going."

Including Q-School qualifiers, this is just Dunne's ninth professional event. And while he's also played two Opens an an amateur, it's only his sixth European Tour start since he turned professional by claiming a share of 19th in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews just three and a half months ago.

Shane Lowry won on his European Tour debut in 2007, claiming the 3 Irish Open as as an amateur, while Graeme McDowell triumphed in Sweden in 2002 in just his sixth pro start and only his fourth European Tour event.

As for Padraig Harrington, the three-time major winner won on his ninth European Tour start at the Peugot Open de España at Madrid's Club de Campo in 1996.

World No 3 Rory McIlroy needed only two events as a professional to earn affiliate membership of the European Tour in 2007. But McIlroy's first win proved elusive and he had to wait until his 29th professional start at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic before he finally hoisted a trophy aloft.

A win for Dunne would give him an exemption until the end of 2017 and catapult him from 668th to around 257th in the world.  But he's likely going to need a round in the mid 60s to pull it off and after starting well on Saturday only to play his back nine in just level par, he knows he's going to have to keep his foot on the gas all day on Sunday.

"I went out thinking, if I shot something around four under, I'd have a good chance of getting into contention," Dunne said after a round that could have been even better had it not been for a double bogey six at the 11th and a bogey at the 17th.

Four under through seven holes after following a birdie four at the first with three in a row from the fifth, Dunne was disappointed to play his last 11 holes in level par, even though he made up for his mistakes at the 11th and 17th with birdies at the 14th, 15th and 18th.

"I got off to quick start and was thinking maybe three under front and one under back just because there are three par-fives on the front nine and one on the back," Dunne said. "Getting off to a quick start was a help and it was disappointing to play the rest of the course in level. But after throwing a double bogey in there, I am pretty happy to have finished on four under."