HE MAY be feeling more pressure than he could ever imagine but Stephen Gallacher seems determined to retain a sense of humour over the final few laps in a gruelling Ryder Cup qualifying race.
That was evident after the 39-year-old, on the back of two missed cuts, resuscitated his bid to secure automatic qualification for Gleneagles with a strong second-round performance in the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague.
One-over for the day after his opening eight holes at Albatross Golf Resort, Gallacher had fallen six shots behind fellow Ryder Cup hopeful, overnight leader and playing partner Jamie Donaldson before reeling off five birdies in a row.
He added another one before the finish for a five-under-par 67 to sit on seven-under, just two shots behind Donaldson at the halfway stage in the penultimate counting event for nine automatic spots on Paul McGinley’s team in Perthshire.
Afterwards, as they were interviewed together for Sky Sports, Gallacher and Donaldson were asked about the Ryder Cup by Wayne Riley, who was caught off guard by the Scot’s humorous reply. “Take it or leave it, really,” he said. “Really?” replied Riley, a former Scottish Open champion, to which a smiling Gallacher confessed: “What do you think?”
Of course it’s on his mind and has been since the gun went off in Wales just over a year ago. Even if he’d been trying to wipe the possibility of playing in a Ryder Cup on home soil from his mind, Gallacher revealed that would have been nearly impossible.
“When I arrive at Edinburgh Airport there’s a (Ryder Cup) sign about 100 foot x 100 foot,” he said. “The fact I also live about half an hour from Gleneagles makes it hard not to think about it. I’ve been trying to do well all year to get into it and now it’s about trying to do well in these two events to see it through.”
Despite those two disappointments in the US PGA Championship and Wyndham Championship, Gallacher held on to 11th position in the standings. Winning either this event or next week’s Italian Open would almost certainly lift him into an automatic spot. If not, it would definitely enhance his hopes of securing one of McGinley’s three wild cards.
The Irishman will be keeping a close eye this weekend on events in both the Czech Republic and New Jersey, where Luke Donald, the player above Gallacher in the standings, and Ian Poulter, directly below him, were both struggling last night to survive the halfway cut in The Barclays, the opening event in this season’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs.
Naturally, Gallacher would prefer to make the side under his own steam and he was delighted to have hauled himself into contention for a second career victory in the Czech Republic, having made the breakthrough in a Challenge Tour event there in 1998.
“It was a good five-under and a good back nine to get myself back in contention,” admitted the double Dubai Desert Classic champion. “That’s all you can ask for – that you’re in touching distance with two rounds to play.”
That seemed unlikely when Donaldson, who occupies one of those automatic spots and can certainly seal the deal this weekend, opened up a four-shot lead at the top of the leaderboard. But, after covering his opening 15 holes on day two in five-under to move to 11-under for the tournament, the Welshman then went bogey-bogey and only avoided a third straight dropped shot by holing a testing par putt at the last.
“Jamie played well yesterday and then he got off to the same start, so I was just trying to hang in and stay as close to him as I could,” added Gallacher. “I played better today. I struggled off the tee yesterday and you can’t get close to the pins when you do that. Today I hit a lot more fairways and when you’re on the fairways you can attack it much better.
“There are a few holes you have to look out for. There are a lot of long irons into the par-3s and the rough is tough as well, so you’ve got to play well around here. I just want to do as well as I can this week really, get as many birdies as I can and see what happens at the end of the week.”
Despite his disappointing finish, Donaldson leads by one from Frenchman Gregory Bourdy (67), with Gallacher lying joint-third alongside English trio Tommy Fleetwood (65), Lee Slattery (67), Garrick Porteous (67) and American John Hahn (69).
“I played nicely again and made a lot of birdies out there today so I won’t dwell on the poor shots,” insisted the leader. “I played two pitches at seven and eight and misjudged them both. Until that point I was really motoring.”
Dutchman Joost Luiten, the other Ryder Cup contender in the field, is six behind Donaldson on three-under after a 71, while Gallacher is joined in the final two rounds by seven compatriots, including European Tour rookie Duncan Stewart on five-under. Paul Lawrie (70), Peter Whiteford (70) and Craig Lee (71) are all one further back.