STEPHEN Gallacher doesn’t do over the top – just watch a re-run of last year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic to see his understated reaction to winning.
That is why the 39-year-old was never going to allow himself to get over-excited after outscoring the world No 1 for the second time in three days on an Emirates course that now has a habit of bringing the best out of Gallacher. Two shots better than Tiger Woods in the Champions’ Challenge on Tuesday to mark the event’s 25th anniversary, Gallacher repeated the feat in the first round of the tournament as he posted a 66 to sit joint third.
When it was put to the Bathgate man, though, that he now stood 2-0 against the 14-times major winner, he just laughed and dismissed the very idea. Gallacher is not here to win individual battles with Woods or anyone else, although he certainly deserves credit for the way he has handled two experiences this week of playing with him for the first time in the pro ranks.
First and foremost, Gallacher is here to put up a stout defence of his title and, with a recent record as good as anyone’s at the venue, he’ll be aiming to be in the mix again come Sunday night. Having watched Rory McIlroy in full flight as he set the pace with a 63, Gallacher knows it will probably take an even better performance than 12 months ago to come out on top again.
But a round that contained an eagle and five birdies was a fine way to start and the Scot seemed to be relishing his double date with Woods – and a first one with McIlroy. “It’s good to play with Tiger and Rory as you get the buzz,” he acknowledged. “I wasn’t nervous at all today and I want to be playing with one of them on Sunday, last off.
“Having played with Tiger on Tuesday I knew what to expect. You’ve got to get on with your own game. But he [Woods] has been brilliant in both rounds and Rory was just sublime today. It was hard not to draw some inspiration from him as he played so good, making nine-under-par look easy.”
The highlight of Gallacher’s round was an eagle at the 18th – a feat he also achieved on the the third day 12 months ago. He holed a bunker shot then. A 7-iron from 177 yards to four feet did the trick this time.
The only blip on Gallacher’s card was a missed “tiddler” that led to a bogey at the par-3 11th.
“I’m looking forward to cracking on from here,” insisted the defending champion, who certainly isn’t lacking support outside the ropes. “That Emirates flight from Glasgow to Dubai has been hammered!” he joked of the route taken by family, friends and sponsors.
Still “snottering and coughing”, Paul Lawrie bounced back from a bogey-bogey start to cover the remaining 16 holes in six under to sit joint tenth on 68. “Any time you shoot four under starting like that is good,” admitted the Aberdonian, who was heartened by finishing just outside the top ten in Qatar last weekend. He described a stiff neck as “a little better than yesterday” but reckoned that may have contributed to the way he played.
David Drysdale overcame his pre-event back problems to card a two-under 70, the same as 1996 winner Colin Montgomerie, while Chris Doak (71) also broke par among the 11-strong Scottish contingent.