x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai Desert Classic: Stephen Gallacher opens a gap at top of the leaderboard

Scot holes late eagle in Dubai to take three-stroke lead into final round.

Stephen Gallacher tees off on the first hole during third round of the Dubai Desert Classic Golf.
Stephen Gallacher tees off on the first hole during third round of the Dubai Desert Classic Golf.

DUBAI // Later this month, when the European Tour heads to South Africa, Stephen Gallacher intends to crash at the abode of one of his pals from the European Tour.

First, he hopes he doesn’t first crash in the same guy’s presence today.

Gallacher, who rewrote one of the most impressive marks in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic record book by erasing the 54-hole scoring mark, shot a 10-under 62 in the third round of the and will be paired in the final round with running mate Richard Sterne, who is three shots off the lead.

“I have known him for ages,” Gallacher said.

At the moment, as it relates to the ownership of this particular property, Gallacher is the landlord and Sterne, a South African with five European Tour victories, is the houseguest.

In addition to shooting a 63 and 62 over the first three days at the Majlis course, Gallacher holed a spectacular sand shot on the 18th for his second eagle of the day, erasing by one Tiger Woods’ three-round scoring record of 20 under, set 12 years ago.

Gallacher, a native Scot whose only EuroTour win came nine years ago at a decidedly non-desert venue -- legendary links course St. Andrews -- had six birdies along with the pair of eagles. He finished joint second at the Majlis last year, so he’s used to playing on Sunday under duress, at least around here.

At age 22, Tommy Fleetwood, a second-year member of the European Tour, was flatly schooled by playing partner Gallacher, who did virtually everything right.

“That’s how you shoot a low score,” Fleetwood said. “It was good to watch. I’m sure when I look back and sit down and think about his round, I’ll pick up a few tips.”

Looking back, or looking at Gallacher’s backside? There are only seven players within eight strokes of the lead, and only Sterne and Jeev Singh (four victories) have won more than twice on the European circuit.

Sterne, the 36-hole leader, had seven birdies and Gallacher blew past him like his spikes were made of gray cinderblock.

“You know, shooting 66 and I’m three behind, which unfortunately can happen in this game,” Sterne said.

While Gallacher’s last win came when Fleetwood was 13 years old, the throng nearest to him on the leaderboard hasn’t piled up many wins, either. Beyond Singh and Sterne, only Steve Webster, who shot 65 and is a distant eight back, has two tour wins.

Will it be a blowout? One way or the other, quite possibly. The weatherman is calling for the week’s benign conditions to exit in a hurry -- winds of 25 mph are in the forecast for Sunday’s final round.

Sterne said he ran into Gallacher after his opening score of 9 under and teased him. Before Saturday, Gallacher had never in his career finished 10 under in a tour round.

“He shot 63 and I walked past him and said, ‘Well, can’t you shoot 62 around here?’” Sterne said. “He kind of answered me.”

There are plenty of other questions remaining. At 38, three of the puppies on the board must be looking at Gallacher like he’s a graybeard. Of the pack within eight strokes, Fleetwood, Max Keiffer and Thorbjorn Olesen are all 23 or younger. Olesen came within a shot of a playoff two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.

Jeev Singh, who has four European Tour wins, shot 67 and likewise felt like he was lapped by Gallacher, and will start the day seven back, tied with Felipe Aguilar and Fleetwood.

The affable star from India tried to put a happy face on the field’s final-round prospects, but for the scoreboard to tighten up, he might need the leaders to shift the gearbox fully into reverse.

“I think 65 has got a good chance, if I shoot 65, but it all depends,” Singh said.”I’ve heard there’s a lot of wind coming tomorrow, so you know, it could be different.”

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