British Masters: Paul Dunne holds off Rory McIlroy to win first title
By Keith Jackson at Close House
Last Updated: 02/10/17 10:53am
Paul Dunne produced the round of his life as he upstaged Rory McIlroy to clinch his maiden European Tour title at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
Dunne raced to the turn in 30 and held his nerve down the stretch to hold off McIlroy's impressive late charge to complete a sensational nine-under 61 which earned him a three-shot victory in front of record crowds at Close House.
McIlroy piled the pressure on the Irish youngster when he responded to a bogey at the 11th with five birdies over the next six holes, but Dunne refused to buckle and displayed immense composure over the closing holes to get over the line.
Dunne's sublime short-game was a huge factor in his performance as he chipped in for an opening birdie, almost repeated the feat at the second and, after another birdie at the fourth he knocked a pure iron to within inches of the cup at the fifth.
A stunning second at the sixth set up an eagle from close range which took him clear of the chasing pack, and he maintained his advantage with a good run of pars around the turn just as McIlroy began to emerge as his biggest threat.
McIlroy, who had a big scare at the first when it took his group a while to find his ball after a blocked opening drive, suddenly got his putter firing when he reeled off three straight birdies from the sixth, although he failed to take advantage of the driveable ninth and missed a good chance from 10 feet at the next.
A scrappy bogey at the 11th appeared to end his hopes, but he reignited his charge with five birdies over the next six holes which got him to within a shot of the leader, and it should have been six in a row as he pulled a birdie putt wide from inside six feet at the 15th.
Dunne, meanwhile, enjoyed a huge break at the 11th when his tugged wedge landed on a sprinkler head and rolled back towards the hole to set up a birdie from five feet, and he got up-and-down for another at the long 13th.
A glance at the leaderboard would have alerted him to the birdie blitz from McIlroy, who failed to convert from 20 feet on the final green as he rounded off a 63 to set the target in the clubhouse at 17-under par.
But Dunne, who lost out in a play-off to Eduardo Molinari in Morrocco back in April, rifled his drive down the 17th and pitched to six feet before holing yet another clutch putt to give himself a two-shot buffer for the tricky final hole.
The 24-year-old pushed his final tee shot to the right of the 72nd green, but he finished in thrilling style as he chipped in for his seventh birdie of a highly-accomplished round to celebrate victory on 20-under par.
McIlroy had to be content for outright second, a shot ahead of overnight leader Robert Karlsson after the Swedish veteran fought back from a nervy first five holes to post his first top-10 finish for a year with a five-birdie 66.
England's Graeme Storm led early on after two opening birdies, but the veteran was unable to maintain his momentum and returned his third consecutive 67 to finish in a share of fourth with David Lingmerth (66) and German Florian Fritsch, who held the clubhouse lead for a couple of hours after a flawless seven-birdie 63.
Ian Poulter was in the mix after recovering from an erratic start with five birdies in eight holes around the turn before bogeys at 14 and 17 saw him slip to 12-under, while tournament host Lee Westwood could not make much happen on the greens as he finished eight off the pace with a two-birdie 69.