Paul Dunne qualified for next month’s US Open as three-time US Open winner Tiger Woods was suffering another public humiliation that leaves as many questions about the former world No 1’s mental well-being as it does about his ailing back.
As news of Woods’ early-morning DUI arrest and his mugshot made global headlines, Dunne came through a seven-man playoff for five spots after finishing tied for 12th on nine under par in the battle for 15 places in next month’s US Open at Erin Hills from the Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath.
It’s another bright new chapter for the 24-year old Co Wicklow star, who had enough with a par at the second extra hole to qualify and join Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in Wisconsin from June 15-18 as Padraig Harrington missed out by 10 shots.
As for Woods, the most recent of his 14 major wins came in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. But it may be some time before he reappears on the fairways again following this latest chapter what is becoming an increasingly sad fall from grace for one of the most iconic sportsmen of all time.
It was ironic that the lead story on the Woods’ personal website last night featured his beaming face at the launch of “TGR - Tiger Woods Ventures”, and a quote that spoke volumes about his desperate bid to rebuild his brand following his first public fall from grace seven and a half years ago.
“TGR is my chapter two—my way of building a legacy that’s about more than birdies and bogies,” proclaimed the headline on a picture of the 14-time major winner addressing an adoring audience, the TGR logo displayed behind him on a blue screen.
It was a blue backdrop against which Woods delivered a public apology in February 2010, just weeks after he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant, a tree and a hedge outside his Florida home on 27 November 2009.
That crash led to a series of embarrassing revelations of marital infidelity that exposed Woods’ image as the clean-cut family man as nothing more than a sham, leading to his divorce from Elin Nordegren just nine months later.
Since then the Tiger Woods story has read like a modern day Greek tragedy and last week’s statement on the 41-year old’s website, proclaiming “unequivocally” that he wants to play professional golf again, would appear to be the least of his challenges.
When he apologised publicly in February 2010, he gave a televised statement in which he said he had been in a 45-day therapy programme (reportedly for sex addiction).
“I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to,” he said. “I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish.”
Last week, Woods made his first public comments since undergoing surgery for a lower back injury that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. “It was instant nerve relief,” wrote the current world No 876, whose career earnings on and off the course were estimated at $1.45bn (€1.3bn) by Golf Digest earlier this year. “I haven’t felt this good in years.”
He added the long-term prognosis was positive but for now, he was just “doing my exercises, and taking my kids to and from school.”
He has played just 19 events since undergoing his first surgery in 2014 and hasn’t won since capturing his 79th PGA Tour win at the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
As for the battle for 15 US Open spots in the Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath, 11 players qualified automatically on 10 under or better with Aaron Rai topping the leaderboard by a shot on 14 under from China’s Hantong Li.
Frenchmen Alexander Levy and Joël Stalter, Welshman Bradley Dredge, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, England’s Eddie Pepperell and Andrew “Beef” Johnston and South Africans Oliver Bekker, Brandon Stone and George Coetzee also made it but another seven players had to playoff for five spots.
They included 2015 Open hero Dunne, who had two eagle twos and 11 birdies in rounds of 67 and 68 on the New and Old Courses respectively as he finished in a seven-way tie for the last five places on nine-under par.
Five of the seven birdied the first extra hole with Dunne and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken the first to make it through with par threes at the next.
That left four players battling for the last two spots which went to Matt Wallace of England and Australian Wade Ormsby, leaving Grégory Bourdy and Callum Shinkwin as first and second alternates.
As for Harrington, the 45-year-old only returned last week after a 12-week layoff following neck surgery.
But the US Open, which he hasn’t played since 2013, proved to be a bridge too far for the Dubliner as he crashed to five-over-par after five holes en route to an opening 77 on the Old Course before adding a four-under 68 on the New in the afternoon.
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