Paul Dunne insists he’s not thinking about the Masters even if he is chasing a win in the $7 million Houston Open and the hottest ticket in golf — a trip to Augusta.
The Greystones hero (25) only earned his place in the field at the Golf Club of Houston when he finished a PGA Tour career-best tied fifth alongside West Waterford’s Seamus Power in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on Sunday.
Like Power, Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry, Dunne will be well aware that he’s one of 123 players in the 144-strong field who needs a win if he’s to make that first drive down Magnolia Lane.
But he’s adamant that he’s trying hard to avoid external distractions as he bids to get back to the kind of form that brought him his maiden tour win at the British Masters last year.
"The Masters? It’s not on my mind,” he insisted before jetting out of the Dominican Republic to Atlanta yesterday afternoon for a connecting flight to Houston.
"I'm just playing to play see what happens. I'm focusing on improving and trying to play as well as I can and that's about it really.
"I'm not worried about points or rankings or money. Just enjoying competition.”
Dunne has had an up-and-down start to 2018 with last weekend's share of fifth coming on the back two missed cuts and a share of 55th in the WGC Mexico Championship.
He said: "I haven't been playing very well and I think I got too focused on things outside of my control and my process, so I'm very much focused now on doing my thing every day and seeing what that builds into.
"It's not what I was focusing on, more what I lost focus on. I wasn't putting the emphasis on the daily little things or habits that make a big difference in the long run — practice drills, mobility, gym, diet, mental practice, energy management.
"Those are all the bits that have to work together if you are going to make improvements. Basically, I just need to put the head down and work a little better."
He was still pleased with Sunday’s career-best finish on the PGA Tour, if a little disappointed he didn’t snatch his maiden US win.
"It was a good week obviously," he said after finishing seven shots behind winner Brice Garnett. "The course suited my eye and I felt comfortable.
"I definitely left a decent few shots out there, so I was a little disappointed not to make it a great week. But all in all, I was happy to get a top-five finish and get to play this week."
It was also a huge week for Power (31), who went to Puntacana ranked 132nd in the FedEx Cup rankings after missing four cuts in a row with only the top 125 keeping their cards after August’s Wyndham Championship.
Like Dunne, he picked up $91,688. But he also got valuable FedEx Cup points and is now 119th in the season-long race to qualify for the lucrative FedEx Cup Playoffs.
As for Harrington and Lowry, they will now be hoping to hit top form after disappointing starts to the season.
Lowry (30) is 194th in the FedEx Cup after missing four cuts from seven starts since he set up home in Florida while Harrington (46) is 218th having missed five of his first six cuts this year.
With Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson all teeing it up in Texas, an Irish victory is a tall order.
But with four of the last five Houston Open winners getting into the Masters — JB Holmes had already qualified when he won in 2015 — the Irish quartet will be comforted to know it's been done before.