ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It wasn’t the easiest path to take to get to the Open Championship. In fact, he almost missed his tee time in the qualifier at Woburn , getting there with one minute to spare after misjudging the time it would take the shuttle to get him to his tee. But that may have been the hardest thing he’s experienced at The Open Championship.
Everything else seemed easy on Sunday’s third round for 22-year old amateur Paul Dunne, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The stats don’t lie: 89% greens in regulation, 81% fairways hit, 28 putts on the day. And an average drive of 300 yards – not too shabby for a guy who stands at 5’8”, 160 lbs.
Dunne’s 6-under 66 was the story of the day, leaving him tied at the top of the bright yellow leaderboard at 12-under, tied with pros Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day.
The last amateur to have the 54-hole lead at The Open was a guy named Bobby Jones in 1927.
“I’ve just felt comfortable all week. I’ve played well and hopefully I can do the same tomorrow,” Dunne said in a post-round interview.
If being in the lead at the Open Championship seems like rarified air for a guy who didn’t win a tournament all year and didn’t even lead his UAB team in scoring, he didn’t seem at all fazed by it.
“On Thursday I birdied the first two holes, so I knew I was in the lead at that point,” Dunne joked. “On 10 today, I saw the leaderboard behind that green and knew that if I made that birdie putt I would take the lead on my own, so it kind of pumped me up to make the putt. I got excited and rolled it in. That was cool… lead the Open on the back nine on Sunday… a different kind of Sunday,” he confessed.
His second shot going into the difficult 17th was good it caused playing partner Louis Oosthuizen to remark it's one of the best shots he's seen there.
He and his caddy, his college coach from UAB, had a strategy coming into the week. Play each day hole-by-hole, pick your targets on each hole, follow the best, most forgiving lines and commit to each swing. It was a strategy they perfected on Sunday, and the crowd at St. Andrews loved it. He received the biggest ovation he’d ever seen as he walked to the 18th green with a share of the 54-hole lead.
“It was cool. I actually said on my way up that this is as much fun as any golfer can have, anywhere. It was great; I could hear my name being called from the crowd,” Dunne, who has a lot of friends in the gallery following him, said. “It feels like I’m at home.”
Asked if his goal of receiving the Silver Medal, which goes to the low amateur, has been revised to include the Claret Jug, Dunne brushed it off as if it were something he’d rather not think of.
“I’m just going to get my game plan ready and put a number in my head that I think I need to shoot and go about.” Sounds like a great plan for a guy who British bookmakers had at 1500-1.
He knows other golfers can come out of nowhere to shoot low scores, so he just wants to focus on his game. Asked by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi what thought will be in his mind as he steps into the tee box with the 54 hole lead, his answer was simple.
"Make contact with the ball," Dunne said with a chuckle.
After two weather delays yesterday that pushed the tournament back a day, conditions today were mostly good. The wind freshened a bit in the afternoon, but most players took advantage, including amateur Jordan Niebrugge who shot his second 67 of the week and sits tied for 6th place at 9-under. Ashley Chesters also had a 67 to finish tied for 26th at 6-under.
Oliver Schniederjans and Romain Langasque both are tied with a group in 45th place at 4-under.
Final round will begin Monday morning at 6 a.m. Eastern time.