SCOTLAND’S Ryder Cup hopeful Stephen Gallacher was left to rue a poor finish to the opening round of the Alstom Open de France, despite carding an opening 66.
Gallacher looked set to challenge the course record of 62 at Le Golf National when he covered his first 14 holes in seven under par and then hit a superb approach to five feet on the sixth.
However, the world No 37 missed that birdie opportunity and then dropped shots on the seventh and ninth after missing the green with his approach each time. He ended up two shots behind American Kevin Stadler, who shot a flawless 64, an one behind Marcel Siem, of Germany, who had a 65.
Gallacher is currently outside the automatic qualifying places for September’s Ryder Cup contest at Gleneagles, which is just 35 miles from his home in Linlithgow. But he does not have the chance to impress European captain Paul McGinley in person this week, the Dubliner having pulled out of the event with a shoulder injury.
“I missed a putt to go eight under and didn’t do too much wrong on the last couple of holes, but that’s what this course can do,” Gallacher said. “I’ll still take two [shots] better than my previous best in this event.” Speaking about Ryder Cup qualification and the run of big-money events coming up, Gallacher added: “It’s a massive run. The thing I have to try to do is play my golf and not think about it really.”
Stadler said all the right things after claiming the lead with seven birdies and no bogeys. “It’s one of my best rounds of the year for sure,” said Stadler, who won his maiden PGA Tour title in the Phoenix Open in February and was half of the first father-son pairing to play in the same Masters with his father Craig in April.
“Not to make a bogey out there is something I didn’t think was possible when I first played it. It’s instantly one of my favourite courses. I thought it was spectacular from hole one to the end. They talk about the last four holes but they are doing a discredit to the previous 14.
“I have always wanted to come over here, the guys in the US tell me it’s one of the best events of the year and it has not let me down. It has been fantastic.”
Siem was in the group ahead of Gallacher and experienced starkly contrasting fortunes on the closing stretch, playing his final four holes in five shots fewer thanks to a hat-trick of birdies from the sixth.
“I always enjoy coming back here. I love the track and had a good start this morning,” Siem told Sky Sports. “The putts finally started dropping. Last week my putting was horrible, so I am really pleased.”
Siem’s wife gave birth to their second child last week and the 33-year-old German admitted he was feeling the effects of coping with his enlarged family. “I was really tired,” added the 2012 champion, who overcame a ‘shank’ on the second hole and also bogeyed the 18th after finding water with his approach.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell was six shots off the lead after a round of 70, while playing partner Martin Kaymer recovered from dropping three shots in his first two holes to card a 72.