STEPHEN Gallacher last night defended amateurs competing in the final round of the Dunhill Links Championship despite one of them playing a part in him losing just over £100,000 at St Andrews.
The man who won the £3.5 million pro-am event in 2004 was lying fourth, just three shots off the lead, when he suffered a two-shot penalty for playing the wrong ball on the Old Course. Both Gallacher and Steve Halsall, a Yorkshire businessman who is a member at Archerfield Links, were playing Titleist with the number ‘1’ on them, the only difference being that one had a green dot on it and the other a red one.
At the par-4 16th, Gallacher made the mistake of playing Halsall’s ball with his second shot and eventually ran up a quadruple-bogey 8, to see his outside chances of a second win in the event disappear.
It dropped him into a share of tenth and, though he recovered well from that setback to finish par-birdie for a closing 71 and a 15-under total of 273, it proved a costly error for the 37-year-old.
He eventually finished in a tie for fifth, seven shots behind the winner, South African Branden Grace, and picked up a cheque for £80,990 when a par at the 16th would have earned him £183,695.
“It was a freak incident and won’t happen again,” said Gallacher as he reflected on suffering the first penalty of his career for such a rules breach. “I had hit my tee shot down the left and the only fault I made was that I didn’t know where the amateur had hit it off the tee.”
The main reason for that was because Halsall was playing with Englishman Danny Willett whereas Gallacher did not have an amateur partner on the final day. Also, Halsall played off a tee much further forward.
“We were both playing Title-ists with the same number, but with different markings,” added the Scot.
“When I got to my ball it was side on and I didn’t think any of it as the amateur had teed off 100 yards further up. It was only when his caddie said another ball that was five yards away in the rough wasn’t theirs.”
The presence of amateurs in the final round has long been questioned, but, having managed to win the event eight years ago with Sir Martyn Arbib, Gallacher said he didn’t mind that at all. “It’s a pro-am, isn’t it?” he declared. “The prize fund wouldn’t be what it is if that wasn’t the case. It’s as simple as that.” Ironically, it was the second time in the event that Gallacher had suffered a penalty.
On Thursday, playing his first round at St Andrews, he took a practice swing about 6ft behind his ball at the 15th and hit a divot. It flew forward and moved his ball, incurring a one-shot penalty. “It’s an event that’s been kind to me, but it’s been harsh to me, too,” he said, ruefully.
Six behind Grace at the start of the day, Gallacher had closed the gap to just two shots at one point, having bagged five birdies in six holes from the fifth. He was still in with an outside chance when the unfortunate incident occurred.
“I was trying to birdie the last three holes and that’s why I took an aggressive line at the 16th,” he said.
The Bathgate man still finished as the leading Scot, three shots ahead of David Drysdale, who, after six attempts, qualified for the last round in this event for the first time.
He signed off with a 68 – three better than playing partner Ernie Els – to finish in a tie for 15th on 276, 12-under. It boosted his hopes of being in the 60-strong field for the season-ending £5 million Dubai World Championship, having started the week 51st on the money-list.
“It’s been a funny week as I felt I didn’t play that well but scored well enough,” said the 37-year-old from Cockburnspath.
“In the first six months of the year I was doing well in both driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation, but over the last six events it’s been totally opposite.”
The stop-start nature of the Tour in recent weeks, partly caused by tournaments falling off the schedule, hasn’t helped.
“I’d played some decent golf until May and June, but I’ve had no real rhythm since then,” Drysdale added.
He’ll struggle to find any before Dubai. He’s off to Portugal this week then faces a month off before the South African Open. The big-money event in the Middle East is straight after that.
Having struggled to get out and practise when he has been at home a lot this season due to the weather, a stint in the sunshine is beckoning, revealed Drysdale, in preparation for next season.
“I’ve got my own driving range at home, but there are days when you look out the window and say: ‘I’m not going out in that,’” he said.
Marc Warren, joint-fifth 12 months ago, had to settle for a tie for 34th this time on 279 after a closing 70, finishing alongside Scott Jamieson, who carded a final round of 69.
Colin Montgomerie, the only other Scot to survive the 54-hole cut, was 55th after his 71.