HE put himself through the wringer. The hundreds of people rooting for him, too. Plenty of nails in parts of West Lothian, in fact, would have been bitten down to the quick over four-and-a-bit hours, the time it took to complete a dramatic final round in the Dubai Desert Classic,
In the end, though, Stephen Gallacher got the job done. The 38-year-old secured the victory he richly deserved after lighting up the final event on the European Tour’s Middle East Swing in spectacular fashion with an opening 63 then, in Saturday’s third round, a career-best 62.
A closing 71 for a 22-under-par total of 266 equalled the tournament record set by Thomas Bjorn in 2001, saw him become only the second Scot to win this event after Colin Montgomerie in 1996 and opened up all sorts of doors for Gallacher for the rest of the season. Perhaps next year, too, with a Ryder Cup at Gleneagles looming on the horizon.
He has climbed more than 50 places in the world from 111th into the top 60 to book his place in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona later this month for the first time. He also qualifies for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and WGC-HSBC Champions as well as next year’s Volvo Champions event.
On top of all that, Gallacher has also moved a huge step closer to making his Masters debut in April after picking up a cheque for nearly £229,000 to soar to sixth in the Race to Dubai with earnings of more than £273,000.
The second Scot to win on the 2013 European Tour schedule following Scott Jamieson’s maiden victory in the Nelson Mandela Championship in South Africa, Gallacher has also earned a two-year exemption.
All in all, then, it was a rewarding day for the Bathgate man and, though his closing effort was far from polished, he made up for his mistakes by showing plenty of courage and determination. He also had some luck along the way, but no-one could begrudge him that, especially when he’s suffered at the other end of the stick quite often and has also seen his career hampered by injuries and illness since recording his breakthrough triumph in the 2004 Dunhill Links.
“I’m delighted and proud of myself. It’s taken a long time, but it’s sweeter now and I am maturing with age hopefully,” said Gallacher of a second success that came in his 404th Tour start. “It was a tough day with the wind gusting and it was hard to land the ball close, but you need to do something special to win and I hit a perfect second shot at 16. I’ve holed four shots this week, but you’ve got to do that these days to win and you need that little bit of magic.” Three ahead at the start of the day, Gallacher lost that advantage after just two holes, missing a short par putt at the first then a slightly longer one at the next, which his playing partner, South African Richard Sterne, birdied to draw level. Wayward off the tee throughout the front nine, Gallacher appeared to have given himself a timely lift by rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt at the third, only to be overtaken by the stuffy Sterne, a five-time Tour winner, after three-putting from long range at the eighth.
When the Scot then stuck his 3-wood tee shot in trees at the right side of the ninth fairway, he was in danger of slipping further off pace, yet pulled off a miraculous recovery to no more than two feet, setting up a birdie that drew him level with Sterne again.
It was the start of Gallacher slowly taking the wind out of the South African’s sails. In trouble off the tee again at the tenth, the Scot was forced to take a penalty drop, yet dug deep to escape with a par after holing a 15-foot left-to-right putt. Sterne birdied that to go in front again only to then drop back-to-back shots at the 11th and 12th.
Gallacher was unable to birdie the long 13th, which he’d eagled in both the first and third rounds, and though Sterne allowed his opponent to edge in front again by three-putting from the front of the par-3 15th, the man from Pretoria was proving difficult to shake off.
But, just when it looked as though the title tussle – the pair effectively found themselves in a match-play situation as no-one in the chasing pack got closer than three shots to them all day – Gallacher delivered the latest in a series of sublime shots he’d produced in the event.
He sank a 110-yard wedge from the rough at the 16th – amazingly his fifth eagle of the tournament – and with Sterne three-putting again the gap between them was suddenly four shots and two closing pars saw Gallacher home.
It was a sweet moment for the Lothians man, yet there was no wild celebration. He’s far too classy for that, though it was no surprise that he was pleased with himself and, in particular, those incredible shots at the ninth and 16th.
“I had a window (between two trees) of about four feet, had to cut it and go under the first tree and over the second,” he said of the former. “When I saw the ball two feet from the flag I couldn’t believe it. That kept me going and was the catalyst to dig in on the back nine.”
As for what happened on the 16th, he added: “I don’t really know what to say. You need that little bit of magic.” It also produced a magic moment from Sterne, who walked over the fairway to congratulate Gallacher after the ball had disappeared into the hole. “I don’t like it,” said the South African of his playing partner’s timing, “but great shot.”
Add in the bunker shot Gallacher holed for an eagle at the 18th in his third round and the Scot would have contenders for a clean sweep if they handed out first, second and third prizes for Shot of the Month instead of just one for the winner.