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Stephen Gallacher top of the tree in Dubai

Stephen Gallacher. Picture: Getty Images

Stephen Gallacher. Picture: Getty Images

  • by MARK GARROD
 

Two days after matching his best-ever European Tour round, Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher amazingly went one better in Dubai yesterday.

Holing a 40-yard bunker shot for an eagle at the last gave the 38-year-old a magical 62, which put him three strokes ahead of second-placed Richard Sterne going into today’s final round of the Omega Desert Classic.

Gallacher, nephew of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard, has won only once in more than 400 Tour events and that was nine years ago at St Andrews.

But the Bathgate golfer, pictured, was joint runner-up with Lee Westwood in this event last February and might never have a better chance to lift another trophy than today.

Dane Thorbjorn Olesen is three shots behind South African Sterne in third and then came a further two-shot gap to England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar.

Gallacher has now had four eagles and 17 birdies during a week that has also included four bogeys, one of which involved a climb up a ladder by another caddie to identify his ball stuck in a palm tree.

On 21 under par, he said of the closing bunker shot: “The moment I hit it, it was either stiff or in.

“I’m excited and looking forward to tomorrow. I’m pretty familiar with his course – I come out here on holiday with the family.

“I struggled last week [in Qatar] and my driver cracked, but with the new one I’m hitting more fairways and I’ve putted really good.”

Sterne, who opened the event with a 62 and led by one after each of the first two rounds, might have expected a 66 to keep him out in front. But he contented himself with coming back from a first hole bogey with seven birdies, six of them in the last 12 holes.

Of Gallacher’s compatriots, Chris Doak had 11 birdies and no bogeys in the first 42 holes, but found the water at the short seventh, took five and finished the day in a tie for tenth on 11-under. Race to Dubai leader Scott Jamieson is at nine-under after a round of 70 yesterday. He’s one shot ahead of David Drysdale, who shot 69.

The other two Scots to make the cut, Craid Lee and Marc Warren, are at six-under after matching 71s.

Gallacher’s round yesterday contained two eagles and the first of those at the long 13th was nearly an albatross. After a massive drive he needed just an eight-iron and it hit the flag before stopping less than four feet away.

It is only four years since the former Scottish and European amateur champion had to return to the Tour qualifying school during a battle with the viral infection sarcoidosis that affected his lungs and joints. Victory today would lift him from 111th on the world rankings into the top 60 for the first time.

That would virtually secure him a debut in the Accenture Match Play in Arizona later this month, while a climb into the top 50 by the end of next month would mean a trip to Augusta for the US Masters.

n Phil Mickelson maintained his four-stroke lead at the midway point of the Waste Management Phoenix Open but missed out on a notable achievement on the final hole. Mickelson’s six-under 65 gave him a 36-hole total of 125, 17 under par and four clear of Bill Haas. But a par at the last would have seen the left-hander set a new PGA Tour 36-hole record of 123. Instead, he carded a double-bogey six.

 

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