Paul Dunne KO'd by injury but Irish quintet dreaming big at Q-School

Paul Dunne KO'd by injury but Irish quintet dreaming big at Q-School

Paul Dunne's nightmare season took on more Dantesque proportions when he was forced to withdraw from tomorrow's Final Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School with a niggling wrist injury.

But the dream is still very much alive for Michael Hoey, Robin Dawson, Jonny Caldwell, Niall Kearney and Gavin Moynihan as they tee it up at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona hoping to finish the gruelling six-round battle among the top 25 and ties.

Hoey, Caldwell and Moynihan know how it feels to win their cards at the most nerve-racking test in golf and will feel for Dunne, who revealed today that he's been battling a wrist injury and simply can't tee it up.

"I won't be playing this week," Dunne said via text message. "Have an ongoing wrist injury that's gotten worse and I'm going to take some time to sort it out."

It's unclear how long he has been suffering with the injury and whether it will require surgery or simply needed rest and rehabilitation.

"I'm trying to get to the bottom of it," Dunne said.

It's a worrying development for the Greystones star (26), who co-led The Open with a round to go at St Andrews in 2015, won his card at the Q-School later that year and then held off the likes of Rory McIlroy to win the 2017 British Masters by three strokes, carding a final round 61.

As a former European Tour winner, he will likely get 20 starts next year and close friend Pádraig Harrington has no fears for the Greystones man’s future.

"Paul Dunne is capable of winning," Harrington said. "You are not looking at a player who would see 20th or 30th as good results. Paul has won a big event and had top finishes in big events."

Dunne's former Walker Cup teammate Moynihan (25) will be looking to win his card at the Q-School for the third year in a row, and after a strong finish to the European Tour season, he's quietly confident in his game.

The week also bodes well for Hoey, Dawson, Caldwell and Kearney, who arrived in Tarragona with high hopes after coming through the always dangerous Second Stage.

The 156-man field in Tarragona is a global one featuring players from 28 nations as well as 25 European Tour winners with 67 wins between them headed by 2014 Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson, seven-time winner Gonzalo Fernandez Castaño of Spain and former Irish Open winner Brett Rumford of Australia.

Portmarnock Links' Dawson (24) came close to winning his full card last year, and while it's been an up-and-down season for the Tramore native in his rookie year on the Challenge Tour, he believes he's made great strides.

“I know I didn't keep top 70 status on the Challenge Tour, but for my first year on tour it's a big learning curve, and I've grown a lot as a player and more as a person," said the Portmarnock Links professional, who will have Douglas international Peter O'Keeffe on his bag.

"I am learning every week and finding out what's best for me. When you are out there as a pro, you are on your own, and it's totally different to the amateur game."

He eagled his penultimate hole in the Second Stage to stamp his ticket to the Final Stage and knows that this will be as much a mental as physical test.

"I've realised this year that golf is such a mental game," said Dawson, who now works with Dr Ed Coughlan, the performance coach who helped Cormac Sharvin win his card through the Challenge Tour rankings this year.

"The Final Stage is about patience and keeping big numbers off the card, picking off the birdies when you can. They are not the toughest courses, but you have to treat them with a lot of respect."

The move from the demanding PGA Catalunya Resort to a more benign Lumine three years ago has forced players to go lower than ever to win their cards.

As a result, Hoey, Kearney and Caldwell all hope that there's some wind to keep the scoring in check with the cut off for the top 25 falling at 13-under in 2017 and 16-under last year compared to five-under in Girona in 2016.

The top 70 and ties who make the cut after 72 holes will win full Challenge Tour cards and the chance to play in up to ten minor European Tour events.

That's huge for Caldwell, who has already won a lesser Challenge Tour card through the Europro Tour rankings and for Dubliner Kearney (31), who has also been battling to make it to the European Tour for the best part of a decade.

"Obviously it would be great to get the breakthrough and I am playing okay," said the two-time Irish PGA winner, who played for five years on the Challenge Tour before trying his luck in Asia.

"I am still married to the game, that's the problem," he joked. "And I still feel I have something to offer. If I didn't, I would pack it in.

"I think I have the intelligence to be able to say, look I am not going anywhere here, so it's unlikely it's going to happen. But I feel the opposite."

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