THESE rookies are good and smart cookies, too. While both are delighted to find themselves to the fore after two rounds in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Englishman Jimmy Mullen and Irishman Paul Dunne are well aware of how this unique event works.
“I’ve played the easier of the courses, so I had to produce two good rounds to take the pressure off myself,” said Mullen, referring to Kingsbarns and St Andrews, “and now I’m playing Carnoustie tomorrow.” Dunne is there, too, for his third round in the £3.3 million event and offered this honest assessment of the halfway positions: “All the top-ranked players are coming here [to St Andrews] tomorrow with an easier course to play than we have.”
In short, the duo have cottoned on fast to the fact that it’s not until everyone has visited each of the three venues that a proper view of the leaderboard will take shape. One behind joint leaders Mullen and compatriot Anthony Wall, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, for instance, will be licking his lips at St Andrews today, as will two others sitting alongside him and Dunne in joint third, namely American Chris Stroud and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen
No player making their debut on the European Tour has ever won, Spaniard Alejandro Canizares and Englishman Tom Lewis having come closest to achieving that feat as they claimed the 2006 Russian Open and 2011 Portugal Masters respectively in their third starts on the circuit. Time will tell whether Mullen or Dunne can etch their name into the record books this weekend but, no matter what the next two days has in store for them, they look set to have exciting careers ahead in the paid ranks.
“To be leading in my first event as a pro is unbelievable, really,” confessed Mullen after backing up Thursday’s eight-under-par 64 at Kingsbarns with a 69 on the Old Course which contained five birdies – the two efforts being 14 shots better than Rory McIlroy managed for his first 36 holes on the European Tour. “It’s the stuff dreams are made of. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself. We’re only halfway, but let’s see what we can do over the next couple days.”
The 21-year-old from Devon - his Glaswegian father, Hughie, wanted him to play for Scotland but Mullen Jnr was “having none of it” – gained enormous confidence from becoming just the fourth player after Andrew Oldcorn, Paul Casey and Luke Donald to win four points out of four for Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup win over the Americans three weeks ago. Dunne, one of his team-mates in Lancashire, provided Mullen with inspiration prior to that when the 22-year-old Dubliner led heading into the final round of this year’s Open at St Andrews – the first amateur to be in that position since the legendary Bobby Jones in 1927.
“I played against Paul the week before The Open in the European Team Championship and managed to beat him on the 20th hole,” said Mullen. “To then see him leading after three rounds in The Open was a big confidence boost for me and I think a lot of amateurs have a lot to thank Paul for after that performance.”
A shaky start to the final round saw Dunne eventually finish 30th behind American Zach Johnson in July. It was probably inevitable that he opened with a birdie on his return, admitting after signing for a 70 that it had been almost unrecognisable from The Open. “The look of the course is so different visually without all the big stands,” said Dunne. “It’s harder to pick targets off the tee without them and and we also had a different wind today than we played all week at The Open. But it was great.” Looking ahead, he added: “Jimmy and I will only still be up there come Sunday if we keep our foot on the pedal, especially with the quality field that’s here.”
Wall, who finished ahead of Dunne in joint 12th in the Claret Jug joust, confirmed his liking for the Old Course with a 65 there, the 40-year-old from Sunningdale covering the front nine – his inward journey after starting at the tenth – in 31 to head into the weekend with hopes of landing just a second European Tour win in 20 years.
On a day when a number of players were left cursing a late wind switch, Welshman Bradley Dredge made the biggest move up the leaderboard with a 63 at Kingsbarns, the nine-under-par thrust being a ten-shot improvement on his opening effort at Carnoustie. Leading Scot after two rounds is Marc Warren, who, sitting joint 13th on seven-under, is two ahead of Stephen Gallacher (72).