Fast on the heels of Graeme McDowell’s magnificent exploits at Pebble Beach on Sunday came an outstanding performance from another Rathmore man, Alan Dunbar, in yesterday’s opening two matchplay rounds of the Golfsure Irish Close Championship at Royal Dublin.
Twenty year-old Dunbar has emerged as one of the most promising golfers in the country over the past three years. Having won the highly prestigious St Andrews Links Trophy in 2009, he further enhanced his prospects of a Walker Cup debut with a superb win in the AIB Irish Amateur Open, also at Royal Dublin.
Last week, he bowed out of the British Amateur Championship at Muirfield in the round of 16 before hurrying home to contest the qualifying rounds of the Close on Saturday and Sunday.
He came through that exercise comfortably enough but mental and physical fatigue had understandably set in by the time he took on Muskerry’s David Daly yesterday morning. Whereas the Corkman played some fine golf, Dunbar had to display commendable scrambling qualities before he closed the match out by holing a 30 footer for birdie on the links famous 18th hole.
If anything, Dunbar was even more fortunate in his afternoon’s contest with Greg Carew, who would have been well entitled to kick himself all the way back to Edenderry for the way he allowed this match to slip from his grasp. Two up with two to play, Carew took three putts from off the back edge of the 17th before missing from little more than a foot on the last to lose the hole to a bogey and move the match into extra-time.
Not surprisingly, Carew was a broken man and having put his approach through the 19th green, was unable to match Dunbar’s par four.
“I was using his marker as a line on the 18th, otherwise I would have conceded Greg’s putt,” Dunbar admitted as he looked back on developments on the 18th green. “I’m pretty wrecked at the moment but I’ll go out in the morning and try my hardest against Des Morgan.”
Yesterday’s first round threw up some surprise results, not least the decisive 4 and 3 defeat of Paul Cutler, winner of this year’s prestigious Lytham Trophy and the 2009 East of Ireland by Daniel Holland. The latter, however, went out by an even more decisive 5 and 4 in the afternoon to Colm O’Sullivan of Fota Island, another young man displaying a deal of potential.
Cian Curley of Newlands who claimed the East of Ireland at Baltray over the Whit weekend, went out in the first match of the day against Stephen Healy, a 20 year-old student at Jacksonville University in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Healy, who plays out of Claremorris, went on to beat Niall Gorey of Lee Valley on the 18th in the second round and now meets Munster Interpro Stephen Loftus of Lahinch, himself a winner over Galway’s experienced Joe Lyons.
The removal of Cutler and Curley and a few other notables in current international Paul O’Kane and West Waterford’s Seamus Power (well beaten by Thomas O’Flynn of Fota), has opened up the championship to a considerable degree. Nevertheless, much of the wise money is going on leading qualifier Luke Lennox from Moyola Park, who enjoyed the biggest margin of the day as he trounced Barry Daly of Edmondstown by 8 and 7 having earlier accounted for David Reilly of Westmanstown.
West of Ireland and South of Ireland stroke play champion Rory Leonard also stands his ground as do Dara Lernihan, a member of last year’s Irish team.