DCSIMG

Stephen Gallacher looks a master in Augusta debut

Stephen Gallacher, right, and Darren Clarke stride down the first fairway at Augusta National. Picture: Getty

Stephen Gallacher, right, and Darren Clarke stride down the first fairway at Augusta National. Picture: Getty

  • by MARTIN DEMPSTER
 

IT WAS always a day he was going to cherish. Little could Stephen Gallacher have imagined, however, that his Masters debut would prove so utterly exciting.

Out in 33, three-under, he was sitting second at one point before starting for home with three straight bogeys. The 39-year-old then showed the patience that is such a virtue here and earned his reward.

A stunning second into the 15th set up a birdie – it should have been an eagle – and three pars to finish, including an up and down from sand at the last, added up to a one-under 71 - five less than compatriot Sandy Lyle.

Anyone who breaks par at Augusta National has to be pleased, even more so when the pins are located in such tricky positions and a swirling wind is blowing through the trees in Amen Corner.

Gallacher’s start to the day wasn’t without a hint of drama. After beginning to warm up on the range, his caddie, Damian Moore, spotted that a 5-wood rather than a 3-wood had been brought from the car by Gallacher’s nephew, Chris. It led to a frantic search for his manager, Iain Stoddart, to get the keys and, feeling a duty to help a fellow Scot who also happens to be a good friend, this correspondent found him under the tree, where all the movers and shakers congregate this week, in front of the clubhouse.

Despite that unsettling moment, Gallacher, wearing white trousers along with a sky blue top, looked relaxed as he stepped on to the first tee, where the large crowd included Ken Lewandowski, the former Hibernian chairman. “I told Stephen when he was a boy that ‘if you ever get to Augusta, I’ll be there to watch you so here I am,” said Lewandowski, a keen golfer himself and a prominent Loch Lomond member at one time.

Second to hit in a group that also included former Open champion Darren Clarke and Nick Watney, Gallacher showed little sign of any nerves as he almost split the fairway with his drive then followed that with another fine blow to find the middle of the green.

There to see those two encouraging shots was Gallacher’s cousin Kirsty. Taking a break from her duties covering the event for Sky Sports News, it was a strange sight to see her teetering up the side of the fairway in high heels, especially in the land of trainers. It was also a nice touch, though, as Stephen followed in her dad’s spikemarks following Bernard’s one and only appearance here in 1970.

While Gallacher left his birdie putt from around 15 feet just short, it was a steady par to start and one that Clarke would gladly have taken. After going through the back with his approach, the trimmed-down Northern Irishman was left with a fiendish pitch. He played a miraculous flop shot to get it to around two feet only to miss the putt as his Achilles’ heel reared its head straight away.

After another great drive to the brow of the hill at the par-5 second, Gallacher found the bunker guarding the front right of the green with his approach. It was a smart play as finding sand on the other side there would have left an awkward shot to a tight pin. Instead, he was able to splash out over a much wider space to two feet for his first birdie in the event.

An iron at the third – the shortest of the par-4s on the card at 350 yards - made it three fairways hit in regulation. And, although he went through the back with his approach, an exquisite touch from there salvaged a par, a feat he also achieved from around six feet after pulling his approach a tad at the fourth, a brute of a par-3 at 240 yards.

As Gallacher was leaving the third green, the big scoreboard nearby showed Lyle sitting at three-under. After opening his 33rd appearance in the event with a par, the 1988 winner then rolled back the years by reeling off three birdies in a row, the last one at that aforementioned fourth being especially eye-catching.

As Lyle dropped off it – he bogeyed the fifth and sixth – Gallacher soon appeared on the leaderboard. A majestic approach to seven feet set up a birdie at the sixth – the second of the short holes. He then had to settle for a par at the eighth, where he was on in two but 60 feet away. But, after finding the heart of the green at the ninth, he birdied that from around 15 feet. It took him out in 33, three-under, to sit second at that stage – one behind American Bill Haas.

Turning round to see that on the massive scoreboard close to the 18th green, his 13-year-old son, Jack, understandably got a touch excited but, unfortunately, it was a moment that neither him or anyone else could capture as photographs are banned on these premises.

Gallacher then hit a wayward drive at the tenth. The only option for the Scot was to come out sideways and he did well to escape with a bogey in the end after leaving himself with an outrageous curling putt and then having to hole from several feet with the next one.

Another shot slipped away at the next, where his approach missed the green on the left, and he was back to level-par for the day when his tee shot at the 12th just went off the back edge, from where he was unable to get up and down.

The ship was needing to be steadied and back-to-back pars at the 13th and 14th were just what the doctor ordered. A majestic long iron then set up a great eagle chance at the 15th. He missed that from three feet and left himself with a knee-trembler but in it went. He was under par again and signed off by almost holing a bunker shot at the last. What a day.

 

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