Paul Dunne lines-up on the Monza starting grid four Italian Open laps away from all but breaking into the World’s top-50.
Dunne is among four Irish contesting the fifth of the eight-event Rolex Series events and with the Italian Open breaking new ground with a whopping €6m prize purse and double the cash from a year ago.
The Greystones golfer is currently ranked 80th in the world while a second victory in three events, according to a World Ranking official, would send Dunne ‘within sniffing distance’ of moving inside the 50.
“A win wouldn’t put Paul inside the top-50 but he would be in sniffing distance from doing so while he still has a good few events this year to accomplish that goal,” said the official.
An increase in prize-money has attracted World No. 5 Jon Rahm, the European Tour ‘Rookie of the Year’ elect along with his Spanish compatriot and Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia.
It has taken Garcia 22-years and 167 Tour events to tee-up in a first Italian Open and 14-years after his boyhood idol Seve Ballesteros was unceremoniously disqualified for not accepting a ‘slow play’ penalty and in what was to be his last Italian Open near Lake Garda.
In contrast to Garcia, Dunne is making his second straight showing on the Milano Golf Club course laid-out alongside the famed Monza F1 circuit where earlier last month Lewis Hamilton won a fourth Italian GP to move to now be one victory shy of matching Michael Schumacher haul of five Italian titles.
And in making his way to course Dunne can travel to the course via the main gates of the circuit and then driving in two tunnels under the main straight and then the back straight to emerge close to the Milano Golf Club clubhouse.
Since the start of the year, Dunne has brilliantly come from World No. 267th heading into 2017 to be 156th after losing a play-off in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco and while he blew out to 187th in missing the cut in the European Masters he then went from T14th at the KLM Open and ranked No. 188 in the world to No. 88 with his stunning two-shot success at the British Masters.
Dunne then picked-up another eight spots in moving to 80th on the back of his seventh last Sunday at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and in what was his fourth top-10 of the year.
Padraig Harrington tees-up in the event for a first occasion since missing the cut three years ago.
And the lofty increase in prize-money has also attracted Graeme McDowell and strangely for a first time since he won the 2004 Italian Open at Castello Tolcinasco and about the same distance south of Milano that Monza is north of the city.
Victory, and the second of McDowell’s career earned him a €200,000 first prize, the then second largest payday of his career, along with 20cm high, 40 cm wide and near 40 kg ‘wheel’ of Parmesan Cheese.
It prompted one Italian journalist at the time to joke: “Graeme now has enough Parmesan Cheese for 25-years of Spaghetti Bolognaise”.
But then McDowell and Welsh-born Kimberley Stanworth were then an item and it is believed Stanworth, who McDowell had met on the 14th tee of the 2002 Wales Open and who then went onto marry football legend, Stan Ricketts, got half of the ‘wheel’.
And McDowell will be ‘on show’ over the first two days given he will partner European Ryder Cup Captain, Thomas Bjorn.
Paul McGinley had been second reserve for the early part of the week but withdrew on Wednesday knowing no doubt he would not get a start.