IT may look as though they are behind the eight ball after others profited in last year’s Final Series, but Stephen Gallacher is confident the Scottish contingent still have time on their side in the battle to make the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Heading into the first 2014 calendar year event on the European Tour – this week’s $4 million Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club – neither of the two points lists that will provide the bulk of Paul McGinley’s team in Perthshire contains a Scot in the top 20.
Craig Lee, at 22nd on the European table and 27th on the world one, is the best-placed home contender at the moment, with Gallacher 33rd on the latter and 34th on the former, while a top position of 70th wasn’t what Paul Lawrie was looking for at this stage in his bid to retain a spot after helping pull off the Miracle at Medinah.
Unless they want to rely on a wild card, it will require climbing into either the top five on the European list or top four on those world standings for a Braveheart to be facing the Americans and, following Henrik Stenson’s fireworks in the second half of last season, effectively only eight automatic places are now up for grabs.
Add in the fact that four others – Ian Poulter, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson – are already more than halfway towards securing the two million points being predicted as the magical figure to make the team, and the Scottish hopefuls certainly have a fight on their hands.
“The key is not trying to rush things because we all still have plenty of time to get into the reckoning,” insisted Gallacher, who qualified for the Durban event by winning the Dubai Desert Classic last February and is flying the Saltire on the south-east coast of Africa along with Colin Montgomerie, who gets in as one of the European Tour’s most-decorated players.
“Yes, it is the start of a big four-week run,” added the 39-year-old of this event being followed by three in the Middle East – the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, the Qatar Masters and his own title defence in Dubai, where world No 1 Tiger Woods will spearhead the field for the event’s 25th anniversary.
“But so, too, is the one later in the year that takes in the Irish Open, French Open, Scottish Open and The Open.
“And, after that, we will still have the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship back-to-back.”
Book-ending his year with a win in Abu Dhabi then joint-second behind Bjorn in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, Donaldson banked more than £2 million in 2013. The Welshman is Gallacher’s inspiration as he gets back to work after trekking around Aviemore, where he brought in the New Year with family and friends.
“You only need to look at someone like Jamie to see what is possible in a season,” he added. “It’s not outwith anyone’s realm to have a year where they make two million, which is the figure being predicted. You just need to get on a roll in the right tournaments and that’s something I’ve done before.”
Thanks to six top 10s, Gallacher finished 19th in last season’s Race to Dubai – his best performance since claiming 12th spot in 2004. It has already secured the 39-year-old a spot in the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral in early March. His next target is to secure a return trip to Arizona a fortnight before that for the WGC Match Play Championship. It features the top 64 in the world and Gallacher starts 2014 in 66th, meaning not only that but also securing a first Masters appearance, which will require climbing into the top 50 before the end of March, are tantalisingly within reach.
“This week is a nice extra event for me and, with no cut, it’s also a soft opening to the year,” he said of a tournament that has seen its prize fund boosted by 50 per cent since home favourite Louis Oosthuizen came with a strong final-round surge to beat Scott Jamieson into second place at the same venue a year ago.
“I want to get off to a good start and one of the reasons I played in the Royal Trophy [Gallacher was on Europe’s winning side over Asia in China last month along with Lawrie and Marc Warren] was to try to break up the six-week gap since my last event, the World Cup in Australia.
“I didn’t want to be coming here feeling too rusty, especially after tinkering with my swing a bit towards the end of the 2013 campaign.
“The aim is to come out with all guns blazing this week,” added Gallacher.
“I’m right on the border for the WGC Match Play at the moment and the aim is to get into that again.
“It’s great that I’m into Doral already and, if I can also get into the Match Play, I will probably try to get an invite for another event in the US.
“Last year I came home in between the two WGC events but this time I’d like to stay out for three weeks.
“My schedule at the moment is only set until Dubai and I’ll take a look at things again after that. I’m not someone that likes to look too far ahead but, obviously, The Masters is a big goal.”