STEPHEN Gallacher ran into another opponent in hot form as he suffered an opening-day defeat in the Volvo World Match Play Championship at the London Club.
On a day when Graeme McDowell made an ominous start to his title defence with an eye-catching victory, another Irishman, Shane Lowry, was equally impressive as he beat Gallacher 3&2 in Kent.
As was the case when he lost to Phil Mickelson at Gleneagles in the singles at the Ryder Cup just under three weeks ago, Gallacher did not play badly and was three-under-par for the holes played.
However, the ever-improving Lowry bettered those figures as he made a flying start in a group in which Frenchman Victor Dubuisson beat Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal by the same margin in the other match.
It was Gallacher’s ninth consecutive singles defeat, a run that also took in the Seve Trophy, EurAsia Cup and Accenture World Match Play.
However, with a brace of matches still to come in the round-robin phase, starting today against Larrazabal, the 39-year-old is still hopeful he can finish in the top two to make it into Saturday’s quarter-finals.
“Shane didn’t give me an inch and it’s a measure of how well he played that I would have had to have shot seven or eight-under-par to have beaten him,” reflected Gallacher. “I’m going through a bad run, but the beauty of this format is there are two more days and if I win my other matches I’ll go through.
“I am not dwelling on my match-play record yet. But I am asking myself what more I can do. There were a couple of par-5s where I didn’t get up and down from the side of the green and I also drove into the rough.
“So these are fine margins and I maybe need to be more aggressive. There’s nothing wrong with four bogies if you also fire six birdies. It’s not as if I am crumbling and losing badly. I just need to play better.”
Taking up where he left off when beating Jordan Spieth in the top singles match in Europe’s win in Perthshire, McDowell, swept aside Frenchman Alexander Levy 3&2.
Despite his impressive start, though, the 2010 US Open champion admitted he needs to develop a much more positive attitude.
“I’ve been going through a period of self-reflection over the last year and I’ve been guilty of getting too down on myself,” said McDowell. “I’ve been unduly critical of myself too often and I’ve been getting sucked in by playing with these big hitters and beating myself up about it.
“Playing with Rory [McIlroy], [Henrik] Stenson and Dustin Johnson I’ve been focusing on what I don’t have instead of what I do and I have the tools to get round golf courses.”
Reflecting on the 2008 Ryder Cup, he added: “I came away from Valhalla very frustrated. I genuinely can’t beat Rory round that golf course, not the way he was driving the ball, and from where I was playing my second shots from, unless my irons are superhuman.
“Moments like that I’ve got to step back and think this might not be my week but there will be other weeks. I’ve got to be more like Jim Furyk and stop being obsessed with negatives.
“The Masters, for example. Thinking I can’t win at Augusta is old school thinking isn’t it and I’ve been too guilty of it. That’s why you pay fortunes to sports psychologists to get that sort of thinking out of your head.
“Zach Johnson won there, didn’t he, so why do I putt badly at Augusta when I’m a great putter? So, next time, let’s go and putt great there and see what we can do.”
Having admitted he was lacking a spark at Medinah two years ago, McDowell rose to the occasion at Gleneagles, first as a foursomes partner for Dubuisson then leading the way in style for Europe on the final day.
“Being sent out first in the Ryder Cup helped my belief; coming back from three down against Jordan Spieth and being a battler playing well under pressure gave me a big lift,” he admitted.
“Now I have to step it up a notch in terms of belief, commitment, everything. Paul McGinley took me back when he said I was playing first because he said he wanted a fighter out first.
“I am a fighter. But I’d forgotten that about myself. I’d got into thinking I was just a guy who hit it 275 off the tee and could only compete at Hilton Head and such shorter courses. I’d forgotten I have a lot of other qualities that made me the player I am.
“I think you’re seeing a turnaround in my commitment level to the game. For two years I haven’t been as focused, but for all the right reasons.
“Getting married and having a baby are special times in the life of anyone. But I genuinely believe I can work harder than I have been and I think I’ve turned a corner in that regard.
“I realise that I want to win more majors and more tournaments around the world and I’m more focused now than I have been in a long time.
“Regardless of what happens this week, I am using the end of this year as a springboard for next season and I’m more strongly motivated than I’ve ever been.
“I really feel I’m in the prime of my career and ready to step up to the next level and give the next five to eight years 110 per cent of my concentration.”
There were also wins for Dutchman Joost Luiten, who beat Finn Mikko Ilonen by one hole; Thongchai Jaidee, by two over Francesco Molinari and Paul Casey, who defeated Jamie Donaldson 2&1. Henrik Stenson and George Coetzee halved their match while Jonas Blixt beat American Patrick Reed 2&1.