FOUR amateurs, Alan Dunbar, Luke Lennox, Paul Cutler and Pat Murray will be teeing it up tomorrow in the 3 Irish Open, each with his sights set on emulating Shane Lowry’s magnificent achievement at Baltray last year.
While Murray has been chasing the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch, the other three have been getting to know the Killeen layout at Killarney and in the process picking the brains of some of the game’s finest professionals.
Dunbar, the 20-year-old winner of this year’s AIB Irish Amateur Open, played yesterday with Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy. While it would be ridiculous to suggest that he could become another amateur winner of the Irish Open, Graeme McDowell’s Rathmore clubmate has the ability to string four good rounds together. But win the title? Not likely, says Clarke.
“It’s a big ask and just goes to show how well Shane actually did last year,” he observed. “We are going at it week-in, week-out on different courses, unlike the amateurs, and I thought what Shane did was amazing. I’ve tried for 17, 18 years as a pro and only got close a couple of times. Yeah, it was incredible.”
Clarke has good reason to believe he can achieve one of the most meaningful victories of his career this week. His win in the JP McManus pro-am followed by the runner-up spot in the Scottish Open have encouraged him to such an extent that he now fancies the idea of being a playing member of the Ryder Cup instead of being one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains.
“You put the hours in and don’t get the results and that’s very frustrating,” he acknowledged. “To see some results has been very encouraging so my confidence is a lot better than it was pre-Adare.”
As for playing in a sixth Ryder Cup match, Darren accepts he must receive an invitation to the US PGA Championship to have any chance. He is quietly confident it will be forthcoming, even if he is currently 102nd in the world rankings, two spots outside those who usually get the call.
“If I play the way I know I can, I feel that I can still make the team,” he said.
One way or another, he wants to see Pádraig Harrington in the side at Celtic Manor.
“It would be very difficult not to see him on the team,” he asserted. “It’s not my position to say yes or no. I’m not the captain. From my scenario, it would be good to see Pádraig play really well and qualify for the team and give Monty another pick.”
Clarke realises some big names are going to miss out, as he did in 2008 when Nick Faldo didn’t give him the call in spite of two tournament wins that year. Surely he resented that situation, just as others will this time?
“I had won the week before and thought I had put myself in a very strong position,” he said. “Of course I was bitterly disappointed but I wasn’t resentful because it’s a tough call. I wasn’t resentful because I had the same opportunities as everyone else to qualify. If I had played better, I’d have qualified and that’s the way I look at it and hopefully that’s the way the guys who miss out this time will see it.”
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