Ireland’s Paul Dunne is confident he can handle the pressure of being the pre-tournament favourite for the first time as he looks to go one better than last year in the Hassan Trophy.
Dunne lost a play-off to Edoardo Molinari at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam a year ago, but won his maiden European Tour title in the British Masters later in the season.
The 25-year-old from Greystones has recorded back-to-back top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2018 and finished runner-up to home favourite Jon Rahm in last week’s Spanish Open.
All of that means the world number 68 is the bookies’ favourite to round off a superb run of form with victory in Rabat, where it took a birdie/eagle finish from Molinari last year to force extra holes.
“I think it was the first time I was really in that position with three or four holes to play,” said Dunne, who was still an amateur when he shared the lead after 54 holes of the 2015 Open at St Andrews.
“I think I just learned about how best I can handle it. Then, I did a good job of that come the British Masters [winning with a closing 61 at Close House] but it was a great experience. It was great to know that on a tough course like this I could play well and give myself a lead. Obviously, it’s much different this year with the greens being changed, but it’s still the same layout from tee-to-green, visually, so hopefully I can have another good week.
“My game has been in good shape for probably five or six weeks now. I’ve been playing some good golf every week. I’m just going to continue what I’m doing and hopefully have another chance to win and see if I can do better.”
Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia has vowed that his Masters nightmare will not ruin the rest of the season, as he returns to action in the Valero Texas Open.
Garcia’s title defence at Augusta National effectively came to an embarrassing early end when he took an amazing 13 shots to play the 15th hole in the opening round. The 38-year-old dumped five balls into the water on the par five, where he made a crucial eagle in the final round in 2017, to record the highest score on the hole in tournament history.
After his second shot — a six iron from 206 yards — found the water in front of the green, Garcia took a penalty drop and left himself 90 yards to the green, but repeatedly hit wedge shots onto the putting surface and watched them spin back into the hazard.
He went on to shoot rounds of 81 and 78 to finish in a tie for 82nd in the 87-man field, but insists the incident was quickly put out of his mind.
“Probably as soon as we finished on Friday afternoon it was pretty much forgotten and the week was over,” Garcia said yesterday in San Antonio.
“I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to realise that sometimes it happens, sometimes it goes the wrong way, and without doing much wrong it can happen, but you learn from it and you move forward and try to be better.
“If my ball with a six iron bounces up and goes to, I don’t know, five feet or something like that, even if I don’t make eagle we’re probably having a different conversation. I’m probably shooting even par or even one over that first round.
“With a decent round on Friday, I have a chance of contending. Unfortunately, what happened happened and you can start trying to make excuses that I had a lot of things to do coming into the week or during the week, yes, but we’re used to those things. I’m not going to put that as an excuse of why the week went the way it went.”
Asked if what happened on the 15th represented the lowest point in his career, Garcia added: “No, no, not really.
“Maybe if that would have happened on Sunday last year after hitting my shot, if it hits the pin dead on and goes in the water, it probably would have been harder.
“Knowing that you can go there [as a former champion] every year, it kind of helps. If I play it 30 more times we’ll have some years where things go our way and some years where it doesn’t.
“You’ve just got to deal with it and keep moving forward.”