x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai Desert Classic: Stephen Gallacher tallies five eagles in victory

The Scot claims his first win since 2004 in memorable fashion by soaring with the eagles at the Dubai Desert Classic, writes Steve Elling.

Stephen Gallacher watches his shot from the tee during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Stephen Gallacher watches his shot from the tee during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

DUBAI // The first query drew a shrug, the second a laugh, the third a shake of a disbelieving head.

When a player is holing shots from everywhere but the blacktop of nearby Sheikh Zayed Road, sublime segues to ridiculous pretty darned fast. There is nothing you can do about it.

Seriously, how can the field keep pace with Stephen Gallacher when he’s making an incomprehensible five eagles for the week and finishing with a share of the 24-year-old Omega Dubai Desert Classic’s all-time scoring record?

“You can’t,” laughed Felipe Aguilar, who finished in a tie for third. “You play for second. It’s just his week.”

That sentiment was cemented in spectacular fashion yesterday as Gallacher blew a three-shot lead, hit a couple of circus-quality recovery shots, and eventually won by three at 22 under.

After bashing the ball all over the property at Emirates Golf Club, the 38-year-old Scot held a one-shot lead when he yanked his drive into the left rough on the 16th hole. He had 125 yards to the flag, ripped a wedge as hard as he could from the deep grass, then watched as the ball landed five feet short of the hole, then tricked in – like the hole was equipped with a GPS device.

It marked the veteran’s third hole-out of the week: One from the rough, another from the fairway and a third from a greenside bunker. He also poured in a couple of comparatively mundane putts for eagles, too.

The fast math: That’s five holes in 10 under. Small wonder he matched the tournament record set by Thomas Bjorn in 2001.

South Africa’s Richard Sterne, also playing in the final group, had erased Gallacher’s three-shot overnight lead in the first two holes but trailed by one as the Scot stood in ankle-deep grass on the 16th, then effectively ended the tournament with yet another lightning bolt.

“Everything swung around on the 16th,” Sterne said. “That kind of took the wind out of my sails.”

Incredibly, Gallacher had holed a 7-iron in the first round from 175 yards and a sand shot from 25 yards on Saturday. For comparative purposes, the US PGA Tour’s leader in eagles entering this week’s event in Phoenix was five -- for the season.

When the wedge shot on the 16th fell, Gallacher barely emoted – he didn’t lift his hands overhead, pump a first or do anything beyond offering a simple smirk. When you have five eagles, the shock-and-awe factor is lessened, apparently.

“These days,” Gallacher said, “you need to do something special to win.”

He skipped straight to spectacular. The wedge on the 16th might have been his second-best shot of the afternoon, really. He only hit five fairways all day, and he shoved a tee shot wide right into the trees on the ninth, then threaded his approach through the trees to within 30 inches for a birdie that he sorely needed. He was already 2 over through eight holes and Sterne had taken a one-shot lead.

Off a sloping, tangled lie, it went under the branches, avoided the greenside pond, and turned out perfect. Gallacher cracked that a slight mis-hit could have “landed in somebody’s soup in hospitality.”

“It was one of those weeks when everything went right for us,” said Damian Moore, Gallacher’s caddie, who celebrated his 42nd birthday yesterday.

Gallacher needed all the theatrics he could muster. He hadn’t won since 2004, which is forever ago in golf. For reference, three-time European Tour winner Matteo Manassero, who finished in joint 12th, was 11 years old at the time.

Long time coming.

“Yeah, eight years,” Gallacher laughed. “Just maturing with age, I hope.”

It’s certainly possible that the best is yet to come. He is expected to jump to about 56th in the world rankings this week, which should ensure spots in the two World Golf Championships events in Arizona and Florida over the next six weeks, and puts him within striking range of his first career invitation to the Masters. He needs to crack the top 50 by the end of March.

While there has been plenty of drama on the fateful 18th at the Dubai event over the years, this one will be remembered for what transpired two holes earlier, no question.

“[For it] to go in was pretty outrageous,” Gallacher said. “Which is what Sterne said to me, as well.”

Of course he did. Gallacher’s entire week was audacious.

“It’s tough to beat a guy,” Sterne said, “when he’s doing stuff like that.”




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