Open golf: Stephen Gallacher in fine shape

A BEAMING Stephen Gallacher plucked a crisp £20 note from his pocket. It was his share of the winnings after joining forces with Bradley Neil to beat Paul Lawrie and Paul McKechnie over the last eight holes in their all-Scottish fourball.

Stephen Gallacher during a practice round at Royal Liverpool yesterday. Picture: PA

With bragging rights on the line – Gallacher and Lawrie are good friends but as fiercely competitive as the other on the golf course – it probably felt as satisfying as seeing the £118,050 drop into his bank account for finishing joint-fourth in the Scottish Open last weekend.

The 39-year-old finished with an eight-under-par 63 at Royal Aberdeen, where he now shares the course record with Chile’s Felipe Aguilar. The effort helped lift the Lothians man to 33rd in the world rankings and sixth in this season’s Race to Dubai. He’s in fine fettle heading into an event in which he finished just outside the top 20 at Muirfield a year ago.

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“I would say my game is in as good a shape as it’s been for a while,” declared Gallacher, who is getting tantalisingly close to securing a Ryder Cup pick through either automatic qualification or a pick, but probably needs at least one more big performance between now and the end of August.

“I love The Open, the feel, the history and the courses are great,” he added. “It’s a real challenge, but I enjoy it. You need a bit of luck and stick to the game plan and hopefully be in contention coming up the stretch on Sunday.”

While the 39-year-old ended up pocketing a big cheque in the Granite City, he had been in danger of missing the cut at one point.

“I had to dig in all week in Aberdeen because my putting was a bit erratic,” he reflected. “It was either brilliant or rubbish, so I had to dig in, especially on the Friday.

“That’s what the top guys do. They can shoot par when they are not playing well. Maybe when you’re younger you get more frustrated, but I kept on going for it. You’ve got to keep your head.”

While Neil is still building up enough courage to “blag a round” with Tiger Woods at next year’s Masters, he felt just as comfortable in the company of Gallacher and Lawrie as he did when playing with Adam Scott and Justin Rose earlier in the week.

“My game’s in really good shape. I was happy with it yesterday and it’s got even better today,” said the Blairgowrie teenager of a round that was watched at close quarters by Andrew Coltart in his mentoring role for the Scottish Golf Union. “It was great he was able to walk round today,” said Neil of being joined by the former Ryder Cup player. “It’s great to hear his views and take them on.”