Paul Cutler and Alan Dunbar were hotel roommates throughout the West of Ireland Championship but all the sharing stopped during yesterday final at Rosses Point as Cutler ground-out a comprehensive 4 and 2 victory over his fellow-Ulsterman and friend.
The significance of this performance by Cutler cannot be underestimated as he sweeps into his final season as an amateur with legitimate hopes of making September’s Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen.
It’s nicely timed too, coming days before he opens his defence of the Lytham Trophy in Lancashire on Friday.
“This definitely is a great way to kick-start the year,” he said. “Especially going to Lytham. With the Walker Cup later in the year, I need to play solid in England too.”
Cutler also roomed with Dunbar at Lytham last year and the two Ireland teammates are such good pals, the likely prospect of meeting head-on in yesterday’s final was never discussed.
“There wasn’t a word mentioned about it the whole time, not even last night,” Cutler insisted yesterday. “I knew we were on for the final if we kept getting through and I’ll admit, it was at the back of my mind all week.”
Cutler’s eyes lit up as he perused the many legendary Radisson Blu West of Ireland champions.
“Harrington’s won it, Rory’s done it twice and McGimpsey four times. Mikko Ilonen’s there as well. There’s a lot of good names on that trophy,” said the 22 year old Portstewart hero.
Dunbar’s so focussed on golf, he couldn’t say precisely what day he turns 21 this week.
“When’s the 30th,” he asked. “Friday or Saturday? Whatever, I’ll be at Lytham.”
So Dunbar, who hails from Graeme McDowell’s club Rathmore, is 15 months younger than Cutler remarkably, the extra know-how and experience the latter acquired in that relatively short space of time showed yesterday.
Also a Walker Cup hopeful, Dunbar, too, has many feathers in his cap.
He won the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2009; holds the Irish Amateur Open and North of Ireland titles and showed such astonishing mastery on the links during 4 and 3 semi-final victory over Muskerry’s Niall Gorey, he was widely fancied for the decider.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Gorey, 31, who fell four behind as Dunbar ripped through the front nine in six-under. Putting like a man possessed, he picked-up his seventh birdie at 12 but, as Dunbar admitted “the birdies simply ran out” in the final.
Conversely, Cutler and Gary McDermott, played poorly in their semi-final.
“It probably was a good thing,” Cutler said of that 2 and 1 win. “I got all the bad golf out of the way.”
One suspects the occasion took its toll on Dunbar as he struggled to find a fairway on the front nine and then fell right out of sync on the greens, disastrously three-putting four times in the final.
Two down after three-stabs at the third and fourth holes, he rebounded with an eagle three at the fifth before, missing from just 30 inches for a half at eight.
Though Dunbar won 11 with birdie as Cutler three-stabbed, a pushed 3-wood off the tee, followed by a poorly struck approach from the rough at the long 12th, handed the initiative straight back to his opponent, who, critically, then went three ahead with a neat up-and-down from a greenside bunker at 13, as Dunbar three-stabbed yet again.
After somehow failing to apply the coup de grace from 18 inches at 15, Cutler formally became the first leading-qualifier, since Michael McDermott in 2001, to win the championship-proper as Dunbar failed to make par after the missing the green right at the short 16th.