Golf:

Grey­stones man shows no sign of tak­ing his foot off the gas as im­pres­sive run of form con­tin­ues

The Irish Times - - Front Page - RUAIDHRÍ CROKE

In-form Paul Dunne on four un­der par is best of the Ir­ish after the first round of the Ital­ian Open:

A run of four birdies in a row on the back nine pro­pelled Paul Dunne up the leader­board at the Ital­ian Open as his good form shows no sign of wan­ing.

The 24-year-old comes into this week off the back of cap­tur­ing his first Euro­pean Tour win at the Bri­tish Mas­ters a fort­night ago be­fore fol­low­ing it up with a tied-sev­enth fin­ish at last week’s Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship in Scot­land.

On a per­fect day at Parco Reale di Monza, just out­side Mi­lan, Dunne carded an open­ing round of 67 – four un­der par – to sit three shots off the lead in a jam-packed leader­board where six play­ers head the pack.

Rounds of 64 for Matt Wal­lace, Ed­die Pep­perell, Jamie Don­ald­son, Alexan­der Bjork, Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat and de­fend­ing cham­pion Francesco Moli­nari were enough to give them a tie for the lead in what is the fifth of eight events in the new Rolex Se­ries, car­ry­ing a prize fund of al­most ¤7 mil­lion with just un­der ¤1 mil­lion on of­fer for the win­ner.

Dunne is joined by a host of play­ers – in­clud­ing Ir­ish Open cham­pion Jon Rahm and lo­cal am­a­teur Ste­fano Maz­zoli – in a tie for 17th place.

With sun­shine and lit­tle or no breeze all day there was no real ad­van­tage in which side of the draw play­ers found them­selves on although for Dunne – play­ing in the fourth last group of the day along­side Hideto Tani­hara and Nino Ber­ta­sio – the greens were be­gin­ning to get a lit­tle bumpy as the day drew to a close.

After start­ing slowly with a bo­gey at the third the Grey­stones man got un­der par with back-to-back birdies at the sixth and sev­enth to go out in 35. But the best was yet to come and, in the end, it all came in a four hole stretch.

A birdie two at the 12th was fol­lowed by an­other birdie at the 13th, a third in a row at the par five 14th and then one more at the 15th. Sud­denly Dunne was five un­der and chas­ing down the lead­ers.

A bo­gey at the 16th scup­pered his run but two pars to fin­ish meant an­other sat­is­fy­ing score­card and, with it, his 12th un­der par round in a row stretch­ing back to the open­ing day at the KLM Open in mid-Septem­ber.

Dunne is cur­rently 13th on the Race to Dubai rank­ings with five tour­na­ments left fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of this week’s event and will skip the Valder­rama Mas­ters next week in or­der to take a first trip home since be­com­ing a Euro­pean Tour win­ner.

Shane Lowry and Graeme McDow­ell were next best of the Ir­ish at two un­der par after open­ing rounds of 69, while Pádraig Harrington sat well back at two over par after a round of 73.

As the Race to Dubai be­gins to draw nears its fi­nale next month the top three in the cur­rent stand­ings – Tommy Fleet­wood, Ser­gio Gar­cia and Jon Rahm – were grouped to­gether with the US Mas­ters cham­pion com­ing out on top.

While Fleet­wood could only man­age a level par round of 71 and Rahm equalled Dunne’s score of 67, Gar­cia looked close to his best in a round which in­cluded six birdies and a bo­gey to sign for a 66 and five un­der par.

The im­pres­sive play comes dur­ing what’s been a busy week for Gar­cia after first an­nounc­ing that he is end­ing his 15 year re­la­tion­ship with Tay­lor­made to join a new equip­ment man­u­fac­turer, be­fore he and his new wife An­gela fol­lowed it up with the news that they are ex­pect­ing their first child.

Four birdies on the front nine saw the 37-year-old out in 32 shots be­fore drop­ping one at the 13th but get­ting it back with fur­ther birdies at the 14th and 17th.

Home favourite Francesco Moli­nari – who took the ti­tle here last year – thrilled the huge crowds (for the third year in a row all pa­trons are al­lowed in free of charge ) with nine birdies and two bo­geys in his round of 64.

Moli­nari told the Euro­pean Tour web­site: “Ob­vi­ously it was an­other good day. I started pretty much where I left off last year, so it was great.

“It’s great to see the crowds. I think there’s a nice buzz around the place and I’m happy and proud to be part of it.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: STU­ART FRANKLIN/GETTY IM­AGES

Paul Dunne plays an ap­proach shot dur­ing yes­ter­day’s first round of the Ital­ian Open in Monza.

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