In the end, it was perhaps one trip too many around the Old Course for Paul Dunne. Call it a Swilcan Bridge too far.
Yet when the disappointment of an anti-climactic final round of The Open at St Andrews fades, there should be much for the unheralded amateur from Ireland to be positive about that can take the 22-year-old into a fulfilling professional career, whenever that day comes.
Dunne, with a fan base enlarged from his loyal starting base of family and friends from Greystones Golf Club, should have much to reflect on what in time will stand for a whole lot more than his closing six-over-par 78.
It sent him scuttling down the leaderboard from his share of a three-way 54-hole lead with Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day to a tie for 30th that in any other year would be considered a fine effort.
He had begun the day having made history as the first amateur to lead The Open going into the final round since the legendary Bobby Jones in 1927 after three rounds in the 60s, the 66 he signed for on Sunday night going into the record books as the lowest third round by an amateur in the history of the championship, eclipsing the great Joe Carr’s 67 in 1960, also at St Andrews.
More history beckoned, the chance to be the first amateur to win The Open since Jones’s third Claret Jug in 1930 but Dunne would end the final round without even the Silver Medal for low amateur. His efforts over three rounds had been for nought as the American Jordan Niebrugge passed him out with a closing 70 to finish at 11 under and in a tie for sixth place.
The writing had been on the wall from the off as Dunne, teeing off in the final pairing of the day with fellow leader Oosthuizen, looked, understandably, more edgy than he had all week, as many unpaid or otherwise would feel, to be teeing off last in the final round of an Open at St Andrews.
The Irish amateur pulled his tee shot left onto the wide first fairway laid up with his second and missed a tricky par putt. Bogey. Worse was to follow, his drive at the second veering so far right, he played two provisionals, each of which followed in the same direction.
Dunne eventually found his original ball, lying on a practice putting green and played an excellent shot with no view of the fairway over a gorse bush, scoreboard and past a grandstand to get up close to the green in two. Alas, in vain, the par putt was missed and he was up against it with a second consecutive bogey.
He would reclaim those dropped shots before the turn, going out in level par for the day but fortunes deserted him on the inward nine. A bogey at 10 and 12, then double bogey at 13, before the 17th claimed its final victim in regulation.
Dunne needed par at the last to leapfrog Pádraig Harrington as the leading Irishman, in itself a 40-1 longshot at the start of the week and near unthinkable given that the contingent from these shores featured three major champions and a player in the world’s top 50 rankings.
Yet despite a great tee shot, his approach pitch was overcooked and as he dropped his head in disappointment, his ball flew through the green and into a bank at the back of the hole. Another bogey and an unfitting end to a marvellous week.
“I just never really got settled into the round,” Dunne said. “I got off to a bit of a rough start and didn’t make my score on the front nine and threw away some shots on the back nine.
“Obviously just disappointed now. In the next while when I look back, I’m sure I’ll learn something from it, but for now, just disappointed really sums it up. I’ll look back on it in the next few days and see what I’ll take from it.” What seems certain is that any temptation to turn professional on the spot and forego his now almost certain place on the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team to face the Americans this September has been removed.
Dunne was asked if he had been nervous, to which he replied: “I wasn’t too bad starting. I just hit three wedge shots fat and one thin. I don’t think I’ve done that ever. I don’t know where that came from. It kind of surprised me on the first. After I hit that second shot it kind of rattled me a little bit and I never got settled after that.
“I’ll look back on it and see how I was feeling over different shots, how I handled myself on them and see how I can do that better in the future, so hopefully I can learn from it and improve going forward.” He may not realise it in the cruel shadow of a 78 but for all the tribulations, Dunne has shown enough this past week to make us believe he is more than capable of settling into a long and fruitful career.
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