Paul Dunne tees it up at the WGC Mexico Championship this weekend with one eye on Masters qualification.
The Greystones native has yet to qualify for this year’s opening major in Augusta, however, a top-five finish this week in Mexico would probably secure an invitation to the most prestigious of events.
Dunne finished 2017 on a high following his victory at the British Masters on the European Tour, before finishing seventh at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in his subsequent event.
Currently world number 86, Dunne began 2018 as he finished the previous calendar year, by playing his way into contention at the prestigious Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
An opening 68 in the desert was followed up by a steady 70 to make the cut, before a blistering 65 on ‘moving day’ catapulted Dunne into contention at the star-studded event, in a field which included Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters and world number one Dustin Johnson.
Unfortunately, Dunne could not find his form on the final day and his disappointing 74 saw him drop out of top-five contention to finish in a tie for 19th.
Since that January event, Dunne has struggled with his form, missing two straight cuts, in Dubai and at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and will be hoping to kick-start his season this week at the WGC event.
Dunne will fly the flag for Irish golf this week as he is the only player from the island to tee it up at the limited-field event.
Only 64 golfers will play at the Club de Golf Chapultepec and while Rory McIlroy is eligible to play, the four-time major winner has opted out of the event, despite finishing tied seventh at last year’s event.
Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell, on the other hand, are too far down the world rankings to qualify, leaving Dunne as the sole Irish competitor.
Former European Tour player Gary Murphy is convinced that Dunne has the game to mix it at the top level and sees a lot of fellow Irish golfer Padraig Harrington in both his game and mindset.
"I think he just has a great belief system. He’s a terrier," said Murphy, speaking on 2fm’s Game On.
"With Paul Dunne, I think it’s when the mid-wife slapped his arse, it’s just in him.
"He went away to the States and he found himself. He knew exactly where he was headed.
"The Open [in 2015, where Dunne led going into the final round] got in his way as it created a lot of hype around him.
"But this is where he is at now. He’s now at this place and he wants to go to another place.
"He’s just like Harrington, he’s always had a plan, always moving forward in his career.
"I fully expect Paul to have a 15-20 year career as a pro."
Dunne tees it up on Thursday alongside Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira and American Brendan Steele, starting on the back nine at 1.03pm (local time).
"I could genuinely see myself doing an Eric Cantona if I was playing over there"
Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson returns to Mexico to defend the title that he won following his elevation to world number one just over a year ago.
The long-hitting American is one of just a handful of players to maintain than mantle for an entire year.
Johnson fought back on the stretch last year to take the title as Jon Rahm faded on the final holes, dropping two shots over the last three holes to miss out by the same margin.
Tommy Fleetwood and Ross Fisher finished second and joint third respectively, while Thomas Pieters was fifth, and the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60s.
Last week’s PGA Tour winner Justin Thomas was joint fifth with the Belgian last year and will be one of the pre-tournament favourites to land the big prize this week.
Thomas, of course, despite winning also courted controversy as a result of an over-zealous spectator shouting throughout his final round.
But Murphy, who experienced lots of crowd interaction throughout his own career, has plenty of sympathy for the current world number three and was impressed with the restraint shown by the American.
"You get a lot of it in Australia, but it was good natured. I used to love playing down there. It was funny.
"But in America, it is moronic. It is irritating, just the nonsense that they shout."
"I could genuinely see myself doing an Eric Cantona if I was playing over there."