Dunbar targets Irish Open after amateur success

Alan Dunbar heads into the Irish Open at Royal Portrush this week with confidence sky high after becoming only the third Northern Irishman in history to land the coveted British Amateur title.

Only Garth McGimpsey at Dornoch in 1985 and Michael Hoey at Prestwick 16 years later have brought the crown to Ulster before and when the 22-year-old added his name to the list he said: “There must be something about the Scottish air.”

In the first amateur final to go the distance since Alejandro Larrazabal defeated Martin Sell at Porthcawl a decade ago, Dunbar edged a one-hole victory over Austrian teenager Matthias Schwarb, who unbelievably missed a four-foot putt to lose the opportunity of taking the match into sudden-death. Dunbar attributed his success to his putting.

“It was good throughout the week. I holed a number of real monster putts,” said the champion.

This title brings with it many rewards — automatic qualification for the British Open, US Open and the Masters — but Dunbar sprung a surprise at the post-match press conference by saying he would still go for his European Tour card at the end of the year and, if he got a full one, he may well take it rather than play at Augusta.

“A definite start in 20 European events must be worth a lot. It would be hard not to accept the card but it would be a nice dilemma to have and, quite frankly, I do not know what I would do.”

Dunbar struggled somewhat with his long game during the first half of the final and found himself one down at lunchtime when he sought a word of advice from his coach Seamus Duffy, who had travelled overnight by ferry with 40 supporters.

“I just had a word with him and he got me to make a fuller shoulder turn and it seemed to work well,” said the new champion.

He intended having a couple of drinks by way of celebration on the ferry home on Saturday night but said: “I won’t be having much because of the Irish Open [on Thursday] — and that’s important.”

The lead changed hands altogether six times during the final but Dunbar said that when he went two-up after 22 holes he thought he had got it but then things seemed to change. They halved the 23rd with birdie two’s and the 17-year-old Austrian won the 25th with a birdie three and the famous Postage Stamp — the 26th — when the Rathmore man over-hit the green. That brought them back to level and then they exchanged a couple of holes before Schwarb grabbed the initiative at the 30th when Dunbar hooked into bushes and had to take a drop.

The Austrian was still one-up going to the short 35th, where he bunkered his tee shot to allow Dunbar to square. At the last, Schwarb was to the left of the green in rough, chipped up to four feet while Dunbar was on the back of the putting surface some 50 feet from the stick and lagged it up to two feet.

Then came the drama.

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