x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Practice is paying off for Stephen Gallacher at the Dubai Desert Classic

Gallacher has made it a habit to do lot of dress rehearsals before the Classic and it is paying off.

Stephen Gallacher's only career win on the European Tour came back in 2004, but his form on Majlis Course could change that. Ali Haider / EPA
Stephen Gallacher's only career win on the European Tour came back in 2004, but his form on Majlis Course could change that. Ali Haider / EPA

Tommy Fleetwood watched the ball splash out of the sand trap, begin rolling the final 20 yards toward the intended target, and there was not much doubt in his mind what was going to transpire next.

It was the same for pretty much every magnitude-minded person within 100 yards of the final green at Emirates Golf Club yesterday, too.

Fleetwood, playing in the penultimate group in the third round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, thinks he muttered something to his caddie along the lines of, "That's going in."

That prediction did not take much soothsaying ability, really, given the way the day had already gone for Stephen Gallacher, who effectively obliterated every personal and tournament record in the book yesterday.

The 38-year-old Scot made six birdies, then holed the bunker shot at the 18th for his second eagle of the back nine, to take a three-shot lead into the final round at the Majlis Course.

When the eagle at the last trickled into the cup, Gallacher, whose lone European Tour victory came in 2004 and could be charitably described as a journeyman, had bested by one the 54-hole scoring record previously held by a guy named Tiger Woods, who was 20 under through three rounds in 2001.

It is not often that the names Gallacher and Woods, a two-time Dubai winner, have been used in the same sentence, a point that was raised after he signed his card.

"I don't think he won [that year], did he?" Gallacher said.

Indeed, Woods rinsed his approach shot in 2001 and lost to Thomas Bjorn.

Then again, Woods also had not posted rounds of 63 and 62 during the week, either, as Gallacher already has.

The latter marked a personal best, which was notable in that Gallacher had mentioned to his caddie after his opening 63 that he had never been 10 under in a round before.

"It was nice to reach double figures," Gallacher said.

He has reached treble figures since his last win, at the Dunhill event at St Andrews nine years back, a span of 205 starts. But around the Majlis Course, Gallacher is an entirely different person.

Mainly, a creature of habit.

He has finished joint second and 10th at the Dubai event the past two years, missing a putt on the 18th last year to force a play-off.

He flew into Dubai over Christmas to log some rounds in warm weather, making sure to play the course. He recorded the low round by a whopping three shots Saturday.

"You know your way around here, the lines, you know where to hit it and where not to hit it," he said. "It's obviously in great condition and kind of suits my eye as well."

That was apparent yesterday as he began to pull away from the field.

On the par-5 13th, he blew a driver so far down the fairway, he was left with an easy 8-iron for his second shot, and it hit the pin, leaving him about 30 inches for a tap-in eagle. Then he moved to the par-5 18th, where he knocked his approach over the back of the green into a bunker, then tossed a perfect shot onto the putting surface and watched it run unerringly toward the flag.

Said Fleetwood, his playing partner: "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this can't be happening. He's giving us no chance here'."

Maybe, maybe not. Clearly, the last win was so long ago, it is a distant memory and there is not much left to draw from.

"I don't think that will make any difference at all," he said.

Maybe this will provide a measure of comfort, since we are on the cusp of a trend here - the winners of the Desert Swing events to date, Jamie Donaldson and Chris Wood, had one career victory between them before they hoisted the winner's trophy over the past two weekends.

There is way more on the table than just the first-place cheque.

A victory would catapult Gallacher to 55th in the world ranking, which would secure berths in two easy-money World Golf Championships events in the United States over the next six weeks, and put him within reasonable distance of his first career appearance in the Masters.

The top 50 in the world ranking issued after play concludes March 31 earn Augusta National invitations if they have not already qualified.

"It's only Saturday, so, think about that tomorrow," Gallacher said, no trace of butterflies in his voice. "See what happens."


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