WITH his 40th birthday fast approaching, Stephen Gallacher is long enough in the tooth to know that golf is a game of peaks and troughs. Even so, the way fate conspired against him as he suffered a tenth successive match play singles defeat was probably the cruellest blow of his career.
On the second day of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal chipped in from 50 yards for a birdie-4 at the last after zig-zagging his way down the 542-yard hole to beat Gallacher, who had earlier recovered from being two down after two to lead four holes later, one up.
Coming on the back of his first-day defeat at the hands of Irishman Shane Lowry, it meant the Scot’s race is run at the London Club, where only pride is now at stake when he faces his Ryder Cup team-mate, Victor Dubuisson, in the final group games today.
While Gallacher had no trouble winning head-to-head jousts earlier in his career – he claimed the Scottish Amateur Championship in 1992 before coming out on top in both his singles matches in the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl three years later – it has become an Achilles heel in the professional ranks.
Within the last two years, he has now suffered a list of defeats going into double figures, a sequence that takes in two appearances in both this event and the WGC equivalent, as well as a Seve Trophy, Royal Trophy, EurAsia Cup and, most recently, of course, Ryder Cup.
By a twist of fate, Larrazabal was also winless in match play as a professional heading into yesterday’s encounter, in which he ultimately prevailed through picking up four birdies in the last six holes to go round in six-under-par – one better than his opponent.
“It’s not a jinx,” insisted Gallacher when it was put to him that the nature of this latest defeat perhaps pointed to that having become the case. “I’m gutted to have lost like that, but that’s match play golf for you. Pablo won the last without having been on the fairway. Also, I was five-under today and have played two guys that haven’t had any bogeys.”
As was the case against Lowry, who went down 3&2 to Dubuisson second time out as the Frenchman wrapped up top spot in that particular group with a game to spare, Gallacher paid the price for failing to deliver enough telling blows. Before Larazzabal’s chip in at the 18th, for instance, the double Dubai Desert Classic champion had split the fairway from the tee only then to hit a poor 3-wood for his second that was leaked to the right.
“I had a chance to shut the door on him and, if I’d have knocked it on the green, it would have made his fourth shot a bit more difficult,” he admitted, having watched the Spaniard find an awful spot in a bunker on the right with his drive then, from the other side of the fairway, almost lift himself out of his shoes in gouging one forward from some thick stuff.
“I was in between clubs at the last and tried to hit it too soft,” continued Gallacher. “Was I expecting him to hole his fourth shot? You expect opponents to hole everything in these situations. I had to take relief from behind a board for my third and it was a poor lie. I was just trying to give myself a chance to hole the putt for a half but, unfortunately, I was unable to do that. I’m eight-under for my two rounds, but will be going home after my match against Victor.”
Dubuisson, of course, reached the final in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona earlier this year, picked up two-and-a-half points from three matches on his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles last month and is shaping up to be a contender for the £520,000 top prize here.
“My match against Victor is a nothing one for me now, apart from the fact I’ve got a bit of pride to play for,” said Gallacher, who was joined in knowing he’d be making an early exit by Frenchman Alexander Levy and Italian Francesco Molinari, who lost to Swede Henrik Stenson despite being seven-under-par for 17 holes. “You don’t want to get beaten at all, far less three times in the same event.
“Victor has got a phenomenal match-play record but, at the same time, he’s only 23. He’s had a good Ryder Cup, is a good player and is going to be tough to beat. I’ll be trying to do that, though. It’s what happens on the day and I’ve just got to go out and try and keep the door shut on my opponents rather than opening it for them.
“For instance, I’ve lost the first hole both days, having failed to get up and down from just off the green today. Both days I’ve had good runs in the middle but, when I’ve had chances to put my foot down, I’ve just not done that. In fairness to Pablo, he also holed two good par putts at the ninth and tenth to stay one down before he birdied four of the last six holes.”
In addition to Dubuisson, Joost Luiten has already booked a quarter-final spot, with defending champion Graeme McDowell needing to beat the Dutchman today to ensure he also progresses from that group rather than Finn Miko Illonen after his surprise 2&1 victory over the Northern Irishman.
Elsewhere, Stenson, who was eight-under for his last nine holes, and South African George Coetzee share top spot in their group, while it’s all to play for among American Patrick Reed, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Swede Jonas Blixt and Englishman Paul Casey with a win apiece from two games in the other section.
Victor Dubuisson (Fra) bt Shane Lowry 3&2
Stephen Gallacher lost to Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 1dn
Graeme McDowell lost to Mikko Ilonen (Fin) 2 & 1
Joost Luiten (Ned) bt Alexander Levy (Fra) 4&3
Henrik Stenson (Swe) bt Francesco Molinari (Ita) 2&1
(Tha) lost to George Coetzee (Rsa) 2&1
Jamie Donaldson bt Jonas Blixt (Swe) 3&2
Patrick Reed (USA) bt Paul Casey 2&1
11:15am Jamie Donaldson v Patrick Reed
11:27am Jonas Blixt v Paul Casey
11:39am Victor Dubuisson v Stephen Gallacher
11:51am Shane Lowry v Pablo Larrazabal
12:03pm Graeme McDowell v Joost Luiten
12:15pm Mikko Ilonen v Alexander Levy
12:27pm Henrik Stenson v Thongchai Jaidee
12:39pm Francesco Molinari v George Coetzee