Irish eyes are smiling

Paul Dunne lifts British Masters trophy at Close House as North East fans break tournament attendance record

Paul Dunne shot a stunning final round of 61 to lift his first European Tour title at the British Masters at Close House.

Dunne, who finished with two birdies including a superb chip in at the par three 18th to shoot a nine under-par closing round, overcame a chasing pack which featured Rory McIlroy, Hartlepool’s Graeme Storm and tournament host Lee Westwood on a dramatic final day of the first European Tour event in the North East for 15 years.

More than 68,000 fans lined the fairways of the Colt Course at Close House for the event – from Tuesday’s Junior Masters and floodlit Hero Challenge through to Sunday’s climax – a new record for the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.

Dunne’s 61 was the lowest round of the week and saw him post a four round total of 20 under-par.

“It’s a relief to prove to myself that I can get it done,” he said. “I went out today and really tried to win the tournament rather than have someone hand it to me. That was the focus. Once I was in front I just kept pushing.”

Dunne shot to fame as an amateur when he shared the lead after 54 holes in the 2015 Open Championship and admitted he had received some luck while being chased by some of the world’s best players.

“I feel like I’ve played pretty consistently all year and I’ve given myself a few chances on Sunday to make a move and contend and I haven’t really been able to put the foot down. That was my focus today, to get off to a hot start and once I got my nose in front just keep pushing because you never know what happens – I saw that in Morocco where Edoardo Molinari finished birdie, eagle to tie me.

“I had a great break on 11 when I pulled my wedge shot and it should have been long. I hit the sprinkler, kicked back and I made birdie. You can’t script that.

“I made a great save on 12 and then played pretty steady coming in. I gave myself chances, missed a couple then made a great putt on 17 to seal it before a nice highlight at the last,” added Dunne.

Dunne overcame a chasing pack which included Hartlepool’s Graeme Storm – who led the tournament early in the final round before settling for a tie for fourth place on 14 under-par.

“I’m disappointed I missed too many putts,” said Storm. “It started when I left it short in the middle at the fifth to keep the momentum moving and the birdies coming. I was unfortunate on the sixth because it didn’t roll back down the hill, and then bogeyed the two par threes which was silly. Other than that I played nicely.

“If I am disappointed finishing fourth then how far I have come this year?

“It would have capped a great year by winning here but Paul got away quite quickly and it was difficult to catch him. It was great to see people who I knew out there. It’s been well supported and I think it has been an absolutely fabulous week.”

Storm, along with many of the players throughout the week, praised Close House and the thousands of fans which turned out for the event – making it a great sporting occasion for the North East.

“It’s been unbelievable, fantastic for Close House, fantastic for the North East for everyone who supported it,” said Storm. “The weather hasn’t even been that great either so to see the numbers turn out for an event like this is amazing. They have topped the crowds for the last two British Masters, so they have done a really good job.

“It shows we can host any tournament – there’s no reason why we can’t host big events like this.”

Storm led the charge from the North East as tournament host Lee Westwood finished a busy week with a tie for 15th place.

Northern Golfer columnist Chris Paisley missed the cut with a two round total of three over-par, admitting he placed too much pressure on himself in the opening round playing in front of his home crowd.

“I gave myself a few chances to get into the weekend but just wasn’t quite close enough.

“I enjoyed my second round a lot more having put a lot of pressure on myself and not enjoyed it on Thursday. I just wanted to have fun and give it a go. I played really well, drove the ball great which has been my weakness in the last couple of years, and just had a bit too much to do. Playing in front of a home crowd was amazing. I made a point of enjoying my time playing in front of so many people I know and I loved it.”

Close House’s Jonathan Lupton also missed the halfway cut at four over-par though he relished playing in front of the North East crowd. “It’s been an amazing two days, I’ve loved every minute,” said Lupton, who played the opening two rounds with a rib injury. “I loved being back under pressure in a golf tournament and it was an amazing experience.”

The British Masters marked the European Tour’s first full-field event in the North East since 2002 and was hailed a success throughout the week with 68,000 fans attending from Tuesday-Sunday.

“I think that’s brilliant,” said host Westwood. “It’s the best attendance since we’ve brought the tournament back. I’m delighted with that – I had a feeling people in the North East would support it.”