The Open: Stephen Gallacher is top of the Scots

IF ONLY it had been an eclectic competition. By using Martin Laird’s opening round (70), Paul Lawrie’s second and third-day efforts (69-70) and Stephen Gallacher’s closing salvo (69), we’d have seen a Scot claim the Claret Jug with a six-under-par combined effort.

Stephen Gallacher, who finished top Scot in the 142nd Open Championship, walks off the 14th green yesterday after holing his par puttPicture: Kenny Smith/SNS

Individually, however, it was a classic case of what might have been for those three members of golf’s Tartan Army. Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, was fighting an uphill battle after a disastrous 81 to start. Laird was killed by his catastrophic 9 at the third on Saturday, when Gallacher spilled a costly six shots in the last six holes.

The latter covered the same stretch yesterday in 21 blows – an eight-shot improvement. He was three-under for the last eight holes, signed for a 69 and, in a tie for 21st place, finished as the leading Scot on 291 – one ahead of Lawrie after his closing 72.

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Gallacher said: “I was a bit disappointed on Saturday night as I three-putted the ninth for par then three-putted five of the last six holes.

“I putted lovely for the first two days but for my last 15 holes yesterday then today I’ve had 60 putts.

“It’s just so hard to get the pace. Early on they’re really slow and then they quicken up in the afternoon when they dry out. It was tough to get it dead. 
This course plays so tough in an east wind – it’s a killer.”

After reeling off nine straight pars to start, the Dubai Desert Classic champion holed a “decent” par putt at the 11th to prevent back-to-back bogeys going down on his card.

“From then on I never really missed a shot, really, and anytime you break par in a major you’ve done well,” he added.

“Barring a couple of loose shots, I’ve played well all week and the more you play in these events [this was only his fifth appearance in the R&A’s flagship event] the more comfortable you feel 
in them.”

Refreshed after taking a break before the Scottish Open, Gallacher’s next two events are both in America – the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, starting on Thursday week, then, straight after that, the USPGA Championship at Oak Hill.

The latter, of course, holds special significance for the Gallacher family as the Rochester venue is where Stephen’s uncle Bernard led Europe to a dramatic victory in the 1995 Ryder Cup.

With the race to make the 2014 team at Gleneagles starting in a few weeks’ time, as well as the European Tour’s new Final Series worth £20 million to look forward to at the end of the season, Gallacher will move on from here 
licking his lips.

“It’s a good time to try to peak and put in some results, especially in these big events with plenty of points on offer,” said the 39-year-old.

Laird, still feeling shell-shocked after that costly quintuple bogey, which came straight after he’d birdied the second to move within a shot of the lead, as well as a one-stroke penalty later on for failing to identify his ball in a proper manner, didn’t like the sound of his alarm clock yesterday morning.

“It was tough to get motivated today,” he admitted after a brave closing 
effort of 72 for 294. “When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t exactly dying to get out of bed and come and play after what happened yesterday.

“Right now I can’t really think about the positives because I’m still annoyed about yesterday but I’m sure I will after a few days off as the Scottish Open [he finished joint fifth at Castle Stuart] was just about as important and it was a great week.

“I got in the mix here in the first couple of days. Unfortunately, it didn’t end like I wanted. But, hopefully, next time I’m in that situation I can play well on the Saturday to give myself a chance on Sunday. The hardest thing for me is I knew I was playing really well this week and I was putting well. I got really 
comfortable on this golf course.”

A pushed tee shot, similar to the one he had hit the previous day, sparked his third-hole “freak show” on Saturday, but the main damage was caused by a 7-iron second that buried in the thick stuff and led to the 30-year-old having to take two unplayable lies en route to his 9.

“I’d really like to have that second shot on three back yesterday as that one’s going to take a while to get over,” admitted Laird, who will wait to see how he gets on in the PGA Tour Play-Offs before deciding about a possible return for the Dunhill Links but is 
definitely joining the European Tour on 1 January so that he can become eligible for the Ryder Cup race.

“If I’d made par or even bogey, who knows what might have happened. It’s the first time I’ve gotten in the mix in a major and I know that my game is in the position where I can compete.”

Richie Ramsay double-bogeyed the last for a 74 to finish on 296, while Sandy Lyle was left propping up the field among the 85 qualifiers for the weekend following a 79 for 303 that included a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 12th.