Dunbar wins British Amateur crown

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THE North Coast has another golfing hero after Alan Dunbar became the first Irish winner of the British Amateur title since Brian McElhinney seven years ago when he clinched a dramatic victory at Royal Troon on Scotland’s Ayrshire coast on Saturday.

He is the first Northern Irishman since Michael Hoey won at Prestwick in 2001 to claim this famous trophy and he continues an amazing run of achievements by Ulster men following Major victories by Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.

And with success comes a whole host of rewards, particularly automatic qualification to next month’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes and the 2013 Masters at Augusta. It will also put him in good heart as he heads for this week’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush.

But he says he will still go to qualifying school and if he gets his European Tour card, he may still take it rather than go to Augusta.

“It will be a nice dilemma to have,” said Dunbar.

But the 22-year-old Walker Cup star from Rathmore, had to win the closing two holes to see off the challenge of Austrian Matthias Schwab who missed a putt of four feet to miss taking it to sudden death.

It was the first Amateur Championship decider for a decade, when Alejandro Larrazabal beat Martin Sell, to go all the way to the 36th hole.

And Dunbar revealed afterwards that a quick pep talk from coach Seamus Duffy helped him clinch the crown.

“I was struggling with my long game during the morning and had a word with Seamus who came on the ferry with around 40 guys from Northern Ireland. He gave me a tip to make a fuller shoulder turn and it seemed to work in the afternoon.

“I had not entered for the Open but am now really looking forward to playing at Royal Lytham -- obviously the Masters is a great event and Seamus has said he would like to come to Augusta but if I get my tour card I do not know what I shall do.

“When I went two up mid-way through the outward half this afternoon I thought I had got it but then when he won a couple of holes in a row it was not so easy. I am just delighted to have won -- it was hard to believe that he missed such a short putt on the last.”

The lead changed hands six times -- never was there more than two holes between the players in windy conditions.

Dunbar went ahead at the 14th but then lost two holes in a row and went into lunch one down. But the Irish international levelled matters on the restart -- the 20th hole -- when the Austrian failed to make the green with his second shot.

Dunbar then won a couple of holes before losing the 25th and Postage Stamp 26th but a crucial moment came when he canned a 25-footer at the 27th for a birdie to regain the advantage. He missed the 28th green and was hauled back to square and then hooked his tee-shot into bushes at the 30th, a penalty drop causing him to fall behind again.

Schwab bunkered his tee-shot to the 17th so it was back to level and then the Austrian missed a four-footer on the last while Dunbar had a two-foot tap-in for the title.