GIVEN that his opening blow was a wayward one – it struck a female spectator on the hand but didn’t injure her – Stephen Gallacher recovered well to break par for the third time in five rounds at Augusta National.
His one-under 71 was the same as day one on his Masters debut 12 months ago, when the Lothians man finished a respectable joint 34th despite a third-round 81. “I’ll take that because what you are looking for here are three half-decent rounds and one really good one of four or five-under – do that and it gets you right up there,” predicted Gallacher.
The highlights of his round were spread out. At the fourth, a brute of a par 3 at 240 yards, he hit a 3-iron to three feet. He then hit a 6-iron to six feet at the tenth before chipping in for birdie at the 15th, where his ball almost spun back into the water. “It was an easy one,” he said, modestly.
This is the 40-year-old’s first outing since the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral nearly a month ago. Therefore, he was entitled to feel it had been a good day’s work. “I was just trying to take it easy,” admitted the three-times European Tour winner. “I’ve got a few big events coming up and you have to pace yourself, especially round here. It takes it out of you mentally and physically.” Watched by a band of supporters that included former Hibernian chairman Ken Lewandowski, Gallacher’s opening blow sailed way left. He immediately shouted “fore” but it still caught one spectator by surprise, hitting her on the hand.
“I didn’t realise that had happened,” he admitted afterwards, which made sense given that the woman made little fuss and had actually moved away from where the ball had come to rest by the time the player got to it.
Even though he was unable to salvage his par from there, Gallacher was unperturbed by the start. “I bogeyed the first, but you have to think, ‘I’ve got 71 to go’. The guy who wins will have bogeys. It’s just the fewer the better.” Playing in the same group, 1988 winner Sandy Lyle and debutant Bradley Neil signed for 74 and 78 respectively. In red figures early on, Lyle had a wobble around the turn before regaining his touch with the hickory putter he’s using this week. In doing so, he has a chance of making the cut for the third year in a row.
Neil, on the other hand, has a fight on his hands to stay in the hunt for leading amateur after the 19-year-old from Blairgowrie had a mixed bag of ten bogeys and four birdies. The last of those dropped shots came at the 18th, leaving the Amateur champion looking disconsolate. This is all about experience, though, and hopefully his chin will be up again today.
“It was certainly a challenge out there as it was windy and also stinking hot,” said Lyle. “I played pretty good and most of my dropped shots were from three-putts. “I’ve had a 1-iron in my bag for the past month or so and I used it about six times today. I can release the ball with it better than a rescue club.”
Neil, one of seven amateurs in the field, was bitterly disappointed with his effort but is ready to put up a real fight in a bid to be here for the weekend. “I have an early time tomorrow so I’ll need to pick up some shots straight away,” said the Amateur champion. “I’ll need to come back with a different game plan because I just didn’t do anything very well.
“My driver is normally the best club in my back but it was very poor today. I don’t know what happened, it’s such a mental game. Nothing seemed to go according to plan. But I’m still not out of it - I’ve not completely shot myself in the foot.”
Lyle said of his compatriot: “He certainly has plenty of power but has a few little things to pick up. At the last, for instance, he was just off the back edge and tried to chip it - I don’t even think Seve [Ballesteros] would have tried that because there was no green to play with.”
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