By Ronan MacNamara
The European Tour returns for the first time in three weeks (feels much longer). Five months have passed since the European Tour left continental Europe and proceeded to stage tournaments in Cyprus, the Middle East and Kenya. The Austrian Open is where the tour touches down in continental Europe for the first time since the Italian Open. Austria’s Diamond Country Club is also where the European Tour resumed after the pandemic suspended the season last year.
An Irish quartet of Paul Dunne, Jonathan Caldwell, Cormac Sharvin and Gavin Moynihan will tee it up in Atzenbrugg this week with all four looking to arrest poor form. It has been difficult for the Irish players on the European Tour during the pandemic with sporadic events being held so far this season so starts have been limited.
Paul Dunne is continuing his recovery from a wrist injury that has hampered him for the last year and a half. The 2017 British Masters Champion has fallen to 998th in the Official World Golf Rankings and has missed his last five cuts across 2020 and 2021. It has been a rapid decline for the Greystones native, from leading the Open Championship as an amateur after 54 holes, appearing at WGC events to withdrawing from European Tour Q-school.
We know what he is capable of and ranking just inside the top 1000 in the world is an insult to the talent Dunne possesses. A couple of years struggling with injury and finding fairways off the tee have passed and hopefully this week can see him begin his journey up the world rankings once again.
Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell brought an end to a run of four consecutive missed cuts with a T57th finish in the Kenya Savannah Classic - he was in contention after round one. The world number 373 appeared to have found his feet on the European Tour with two top 10s and a top 20 finish across October and November last year but hasn’t hit the heights since.
Iron play has been a problem of late for Caldwell, ranking 156th in greens in regulation this season. The late bloomer has an opportunity to find some consistency in his second season on tour with the Austrian Open the first of three events in a row between now and the British Masters next month.
Cormac Sharvin has enjoyed a slightly more consistent season so far, making three out of four cuts in 2021, including a T21 finish in the Saudi international in February, in a high-quality field. His best finish on the European Tour remains a T15 finish in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2019 so it is time he found consistency on Tour, despite the difficult circumstances.
The 28-year-old is ranked 116th in the Race to Dubai standings and can move up the rankings with a solid performance this week. Poor driving has held Sharvin back lately, ranking 99th in driving accuracy this season, despite his newfound distance, ranking 15th in driving distance with an average of 321.96 yards.
Gavin Moynihan tees it up in the Austrian Open looking to arrest a run of 16 consecutive missed cuts – his last cut came in this event in July 2020. It will be the Dubliner’s third consecutive European Tour start having spent the winter practicing in Dubai while the Challenge Tour failed to get off the ground. The 26-year-old has shown what he can do, with two top 10 finishes at Valderrama and at the French Open on two tough golf courses.
It is important Moynihan starts to take advantage of these rare European Tour starts and plays weekend golf for the first time in nine months. Crucially, the Austrian Open can give Moynihan some competitive sharpness ahead of the first event of the 2021 Challenge Tour season next week as he looks to earn back his European Tour playing privileges.
There has been little reason to cheer for Irish golf fans in the last 12 months, but there is no doubting the talent of the four lads, it’s high time they showed it and started competing regularly on the European Tour.