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The Open 2015: Irish amateur Paul Dunne admits leading the field into final day is a surreal feeling

By Kevin Garside

Published 20/07/2015

To the fore: Paul Dunne, pictured at St Andrews, is the first amateur to lead the Open after the third round in 85 years
To the fore: Paul Dunne, pictured at St Andrews, is the first amateur to lead the Open after the third round in 85 years

The 22-year-old Irish student leading the Open Championship on 12 under par described his day of days as "surreal".

Don't imagine Paul Dunne, the first amateur to head an Open field this deep into the tournament since Bobby Jones 85 years ago, is about to topple over in shock. He is just the kind of polished specimen from the American college belt that Jordan Spieth predicted would win a Major within a decade before turning pro.

Spieth, whose own attempt at rewriting history gained momentum with a 66 to place him one adrift of the leaders, might need to reassess if Dunne demonstrates today the same degree of nous and composure that yielded a 66 of his own.

We thought the 21-year-old Texan had copyrighted the best lines with his pursuit of a third successive Major, and then in strolls another nipper scripting a golden yarn.

Golden in every way except for the fact that if Dunne should prevail then he won't see a penny of the £1.1 million prize money. That will pass to whoever comes second, as Dunne will be ineligible as an amateur. If that bothers him, he doesn't let it show.

"It's surreal. I'm leading the Open, but I can easily believe that I shot the three scores that I shot. If we were playing an amateur event here, I wouldn't be too surprised by the scores," said Dunne.

"It's just lucky that it happens to be in the biggest event in the world. Hopefully I can do it again, but whether I do or not, I'll survive either way."

Kids, eh? Dunne studied business finance at the same Alabama University that schooled 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell. His father signs the cheques at the Irish Times as the financial director, which ought to guarantee positive headlines whatever the outcome today.

His brother is a sports nutritionist at London rugby club Harlequins, which perhaps explains how a squat frame yields so much power.

So where's your money? Grand Slam-chasing Spieth? The amateur playing like Spieth? How about Louis Oosthuizen, the champion here five years ago? Or Australian Jason Day, once more at the cusp of his Major due?

And then there is Padraig Harrington. Oh yes, the two-time Open champion is in this, too. What a tournament.

Dunne shares the honours on 12 under par with Oosthuizen and Day. Spieth is one back on 11 under after kicking his bag in frustration at the turn to get his round cooking. Harrington is poised on 10 under to rekindle memories of seven years ago when he retained the Open crown at Birkdale.

After the weather-beaten moans of Saturday, no one was griping at St Andrews yesterday, unless you were Dustin Johnson, who turned into an English cricketer for an afternoon to surrender the initiative on a day notionally made for him.

The Old Course, softened by overnight rain, turned into a dart board for the world's greatest golfers, birdies dropping all over the place, except off Johnson's blade, the only player in the top 20 not to hit a sea of red on the outward nine.

He finally got one to drop at the 15th hole before coughing up bogeys at each of the closing three holes for a round of 75, a day to park in the 'forget it' box lest the idea develop in his own mind that, despite his prodigious gifts, he is never going to cross the Major line.

Spieth gave another demonstration of the qualities that have banked the first two Majors of the year in his locker. A bogey at the ninth after a poor chip was the catalyst to a turnaround that saw him home in 32 strokes.

"Walking off the ninth green was as frustrated as I've been in a tournament other than the 14th yesterday. Those two moments were as frustrated as I've been," he said.

"I don't normally ever display frustration. I did both times. I couldn't hold it in. I think I punched my golf bag. I wasn't going to break a club or anything or throw a club.

"I didn't want to hit Michael (his caddie), so I figured I'd hit my golf bag." Hardly in the Raheem Sterling class of dissent.

There are 25 players within five shots of the lead. If you asked those outside that number who is the outstanding candidate to convert opportunity into a Claret Jug today, Spieth would rightly top the list. Harrington, for one, cares little for that kind of thinking.

His 65 was the low score of the day propelling him into contention just as he hoped it would after his back nine of Friday dragged him the right side of the cut line.

When he won his first Open in 2007, Tiger Woods was still the man setting the agenda and Sergio Garcia the one fancied to challenge, yet it was the Irishman who broke through with the first of three Major wins in two years.

That would constitute a fine career for any golfer, and when Harrington subsequently fell into the despair that claims them all in the end, there were not many takers ready to invest in a resurrection of this nature.

Only one, in fact - Harrington. His victory at the Honda Classic this year confirmed what he always believed, that it wasn't over for him, that were he to contend again, he knew how to land a few punches.

"I can't tell what anybody else is thinking and how they're feeling, but in my own head I'll be telling myself that I know what I'm doing and I've done it before," said Harrington.

"I'll be using it to help me for sure, having done it twice before. It's good, positive feedback and I'll be telling myself as I'm coming home, that's the case."

If he is not to be the one to spike Spieth's march, then let it be another from Ireland, is Harrington's sentiment.

"It is phenomenal. His (Dunne) first-round score was a tremendous achievement, then to back it up with another 69 in the second round was gutsy, and now to go out there and be leading, you can't take that away from him. That is as rare as it comes," he added.

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