EurAsia Cup: Dunne keen to extend matchplay streak
Short game. Paul Dunne chipping during a practice round for this week's EurAsia Cup at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur. Picture: Asian Tour 

Short game. Paul Dunne chipping during a practice round for this week's EurAsia Cup at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur. Picture: Asian Tour 

Paul Dunne will be gunning for his fifth international team matchplay victory and his first as a professional when he makes his debut for Europe in the biennial EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM tomorrow.

Without even counting the Jacques Leglise Trophy for Boys, the pride of Greystones (25) had a stellar record in team matchplay combat as an amateur, winning the Palmer Cup, the St Andrews Trophy and the Home Internationals in 2014 before helping Great Britain and Ireland to Walker Cup glory the following year.

This week's clash with Arjun Atwal’s star-studded Asian team at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur represents another step up in class for the Wicklow star, who is the only Irishman in Thomas Bjorn's 12-man team.

And after a stellar 2017, the reigning British Masters champion sounded confident he can perform well when he steps onto the first tee for tomorrow's opening fourballs with Sweden's Alex Noren in the third match of the opening, six-match session against Japan's Hideto Tanihara and 18-year-old Thai Phachara Khongwatmai.

"I was coming into the last half of the year with this being a big goal of mine to make the team, and so I’m delighted that I’m here and hopefully we can have a good week," Dunne said on Tuesday.  

"I’m excited to play and happy with everybody on the team. Hopefully, we all play well and make it wins in all five international events."

While Europe drew 10-10 in the first EurAsia Cup in 2014, skipper Bjorn fears his side faces a far tougher task than two years ago, when Shane Lowry was in the side that hammered Asia 18.5 - 5.5.


“We're very well aware that Asia has never fielded a stronger team than they do this time and golf is a strange game," Bjorn said of an  Asian side led by Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, China's Li Haotong and India's Anirban Lahiri and captained by Atwal, who has sought pal Tiger Woods’ advice on managing different personalities and pairings.

"Whatever it says on paper very rarely comes out on top," Bjorn added. "So, those 12 players in that room are very aware that they have got to go out and play golf this week. This is not going to come to them easy, and they are up for it."

Europe are the red-hot favourites with world No 74 Dunne and 75th ranked Frenchman Alexander Levy the only players on the team ranked outside the world's top 50.

They join Swedes Henrik Stenson (world No 9) and Alex Noren (19);  England's Paul Casey (14), Tyrrell Hatton (17), Tommy Fleetwood (18), Matthew Fitzpatrick (29) and Ross Fisher (31); Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello (20); Belgium's Thomas Pieters (38) and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger (42) in a side that features several likely members of Bjorn's 2018 Ryder Cup team.

Dunne dismissed the notion that the EurAsia Cup is a Ryder Cup trial when speaking at the Allianz sponsored Irish Golf Writers' Awards at Christmas.

But admitted in a blog he penned for the European Tour on Thursday that making September's team was on his mind.

“It’s great to be involved here and I think if anyone said they weren’t thinking about the Ryder Cup, even a little bit, then they would be lying,” he wrote.

“It would be amazing to be in the team for Paris in the autumn but to do that I’m going to have to qualify by having a great year. There is a long way to go. I am very proud of my season last year to get in the team this week, it was a big goal of mine to try to make it.

"I’ll enjoy wearing the flag this week and hopefully it might end up being the first of many appearances for Europe over the coming years.”

He’s ready for the heat of matchplay combat in more ways than one after brushing off his winter rust in the desert last week.

"I spent the last week in Dubai," he said of his build-up to what promises to be a sticky week with six fourballs tomorrow and six foursomes on Saturday followed by 12 singles on Sunday.

Paul Dunne at the opening ceremony for the 2018 EurAsia Cup

Paul Dunne at the opening ceremony for the 2018 EurAsia Cup

"But I did four years of college in Alabama, so it’s similar enough to this when I go over there August.  

"I’m quite used to the humidity.  I like it at home in the cold, but not enough to play golf.  It was nice to take a couple weeks off in the cold and go back and practice in Dubai.”

European No 1 Fleetwood will lead off for Europe alongside the experienced Casey against Byeong-hun An and Aphibarnrat in the first fourball match.

The second match sees Ryder Cup stars Pieters and Fitzpatrick taking on Asian Tour No 1 Galvin Green and Yuta Ikeda, with Noren and Dunne making their EurAsia Cup debuts against Tanihara and the tournament's youngest player, Khongwatmai, who became the youngest winner of a professional tournament when he won the Sing Hua Hin Open on the ASEAN PGA Tour in July 2013 at the age of 14.

Stenson, the 2016 Open champion partners captain's pick Levy against Sunghoon Kang and Poom Saksansin, while Cabrera Bello and Wiesberger take on Chinese No 1 Li Haotong and Malaysia's Nicholas Fung.

The final match pits English duo Hatton and Fisher up against Indians S.S.P Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri.

“We knew that the pairings from the Asian team was going to be strong, so we respect what we're up against and we concentrate on ours," Bjorn said. "We've got some very strong pairings, and I've got all confidence in these 12 guys. You know, this is a team of 12 and I believe in all 12 of them equally."

Asked how he decided on his pairings, Bjorn added: "There's so many things. You look at the stature of a player and you look at form.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - JANUARY 10:  Paul Casey gestures to Tommy Fleetwood of Team Europe during practice prior to the start of the Eurasia Cup at Glenmarie G&CC on January 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - JANUARY 10:  Paul Casey gestures to Tommy Fleetwood of Team Europe during practice prior to the start of the Eurasia Cup at Glenmarie G&CC on January 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

"Most guys come in here from a period away and then you look at stats and then you look at finishes. There's so many things that play into it, and you've got to take all of that in because you can't just go on the stats if people don't particularly gel well together. But you can't also just go on friendship if it doesn't make sense on the golf course.

“I looked through all the different aspects and when you've got to get all 12 out playing, you don't necessarily always get one guy playing exactly with the person he wants to play with, but that's being part of a team and you accept that everything is not going to be exactly the way you want it in your head.

“I believe we are off to a good start with the pairings we have this week. I've worked closely with the stats guys and I've talked to the players, I've talked to the senior players and I've talked to the young ones but that's a natural thing of it. I think we're in a good place with the pairings we have."

Casey, who was another captain's pick, returns to European team action after making himself unavailable for the Ryder Cup two years ago.

“The European Tour has made the choice really a no-brainer," Casey said of his decision to rejoin the European Tour, making him eligible for a fourth Ryder Cup cap in September. "Plus the fact that I know that at 40, how many more Ryder Cups do I have the opportunity to play in.

"Thomas, we have a very good history, and we discussed it. I felt like I was missing out a couple years ago, watching Darren Clarke and his great team and not being in The Ryder Cup was a huge factor.

“So I'd love to be a part of it. We're a long, long way from it, but another opportunity is what I'm here for and make myself eligible, and this is really just the start of it, begins this week, so really excited to be back."

Fleetwood joked at the opening ceremony that Casey was his last choice as partner.

“We've been paired up before a few years ago in the Seve Trophy and we had success as a team,' Casey said. "I would play with any of the guys of the 11 that I have the possibility of partner. They are all amazing and Tommy, I'm the lucky one, and whatever he thinks of my game, I think his is amazing. I can't wait.”

Fleetwood's transformation from a solid performer into a world top-20 player over the past 18 months means he's under pressure to perform again in 2018.

“This year it's a different start for me, a lot more expectation and a lot more confidence I've built," Fleetwood said. "The only way I've looked back is trying to look back and see where I can improve.

"Now I'll start this week and next week and it doesn't matter at all; you've got to start again and next week is the most important week and this week is the most important week. I want to play well for Thomas and I want to play well for my teammates.”

As for veteran Stenson (41), he expects a good match from a young Asian team.

“It tends to always be pretty tight in match play, a lot of games coming into the last couple holes and that's when you get that little extra nerve to it and just playing for yourself and playing for your teammates and your team and Europe," he said. "It's always good fun to be part of a team.”