WITH roaring engines in the background – free practice was taking place for this weekend’s British Superbikes at nearby Brands Hatch – Stephen Gallacher stalled at the start for the third day running before finding the right gears to beat his Ryder Cup team-mate, Victor Dubuisson, in the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
While the 2&1 success came too late to prolong Gallacher’s presence at The London Club, it not only salvaged some pride as far as this particular event was concerned, but also ended a run of singles match-play defeats that had risen to ten following earlier reverses in Kent to Irishman Shane Lowry and Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal.
After losing the first then falling behind again following the eighth to Dubuisson, who had already secured top spot in the group, Gallacher showed grit and determination to come out on top against the Frenchman. In a bogey-free effort, the 39-year-old was three-under for the holes played, taking his cumulative score for the week to 11-under.
“It was a good win in the end,” admitted Gallacher, who got his nose in front after claiming both the ninth and tenth, went two up after 13, then followed a good two-putt from long distance at the 15th by holing from around ten feet for a vital half in par at the next, where he had been bunkered.
“It was tougher conditions and tougher pins and nothing to play for either other than pride,” he added. “You don’t want to get beaten at anything – you don’t want to get beaten at tiddlywinks. It was a tough group and he [Dubuisson] could go on and win it (the event).”
While it was the end of the road for Gallacher in this tournament, his season still has some more big events on the horizon. After a family break in Aviemore next week, he is off to China for the first two events in the European Tour’s Final Series, which then takes in the Turkish Airlines Open before concluding with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Before the end of the year, he also has a debut appearance in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa to look forward to.
“It’s a massive end to the year and it’s brilliant that every week is a big week,” he said. “There are highs and lows, but there are still five massive tournaments to play in.
“There are four big ones to end the season with bonuses and world rankings and then, in December, the new season starts in Sun City, where I’ve never played before.”
While the effort he put in to get in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles undoubtedly proved draining, Gallacher insisted he still has enough left in the tank to allow him to end the year on a high. “I don’t feel I need a break,” he said. “I came here working on something and I just need to keeping chipping away at it. It’s a work in progress. I’m not far away. I’m just working on everything to try and get my bad shot better because, if you do that, you’re in the game all the time.”
Still in the game in this event is Larrazábal, who claimed the other quarter-final spot from the group as he held off a fightback by Lowry to win their tie 2&1. Afterwards, the Spaniard revealed he had been inspired by seeing the movie about his compatriot, Seve Ballesteros, for the first time. “I watched it last night and I love Seve’s story and how he played,” said Larrazábal.
He now meets Dutchman Joost Luiten, who recovered from being three down after eight to inflict a two-hole defeat on Graeme McDowell, who, consequently, saw his title defence end prematurely after back-to-back losses.
“I’m very disappointed about my defence, but I ran into a world-class player and guy on form,” said the Northern Irishman of Luiten, who covered the last ten holes in five-under as he emerged as the only player out of the 16 on duty with a 100 per cent record in the group stage.
None of those left standing is from Great Britain & Ireland after Gallacher, McDowell and Lowry were joined in bowing out by Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Englishman Paul Casey. They would both have gone through from the same group with wins but, instead, went down to American Patrick Reed and Swede Jonas Blixt respectively. Watching on as Reed won 3&2, his wife, Justine, wore red, white and blue as the Texan fed off the back of how much he enjoyed a Ryder Cup debut last month in which he registered three and a half points from four matches.
“Any time you are the lone American, you feel you are representing the country,” he said. “We knew we were playing a guy who played on the Ryder Cup [Donaldson, of course, hit the winning shot at Gleneagles]. We thought the crowds were going to have some fun, so she decided to wear red, white and blue and have some back with them. That is the way with these fans over here. They love it. Hopefully we can give them some more this weekend.”
Reed’s reward for winning is a last-eight meeting with South African George Coetzee, while Blixt, who overcame Casey at the first extra hole after they were both round in 62, is up against Henrik Stenson in an all-Swedish showdown. Having watched Thongchai Jaidee, last year’s beaten finalist, get back to one down with two to play, Stenson slammed the door on the Thai in style by holing his approach for an eagle-2 at the 17th. “A spectacular way to finish,” admitted last year’s European No 1.
In the remaining quarter-final, Dubuisson is up against Finn Mikko Illonen, who claimed second spot behind Luiten in their group by starting with an eagle-3 en route to a one-hole win over Frenchman Alexander Levy, who was the only player to lose all three group games.
Jamie Donaldson lost to Patrick Reed (USA) 3&2
Victor Dubuisson (Fra) lost to Stephen Gallacher 2&1
Jonas Blixt (Swe) halved with Paul Casey
Shane Lowry lost to Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 2&1
Henrik Stenson (Swe) bt Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 2&1
Graeme McDowell lost to Joost Luiten (Ned) 2 down
Mikko Ilonen (Fin) bt Alexander Levy (Fra) 1 up
Francesco Molinari (Ita) bt George Coetzee (Rsa) 2&1
11:40am Patrick Reed (USA) v George Coetzee (SA)
11:55am Victor Dubuisson (Fra) v Mikko Illonen (Fin)
12:10pm Joost Luiten (Neth) v Pablo Larrazabal (Spa)
12:25pm Henrik Stenson (Swe) v Jonas Blixt (Swe)