STEPHEN Gallacher made Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter work hard for his first-round victory as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship finally came out of cold storage in Arizona yesterday.
On the back of heavy snow forcing play to be abandoned after less than four hours on Thursday, the elite 64-man field suffered another five-and-a-half-hour delay before play eventually got underway again at Dove Mountain.
Three down at the resumption, Gallacher eventually succumbed 2 and 1 to Poulter but the Englishman had to produce some of his renowned match-play qualities in the hour or so play’s in order to keep his nose in front.
After Gallacher had missed a ten-footer for a win at the 12th, Poulter holed a decent putt for a half at the next to retain his three-hole cushion with five to play.
With the four inches of snow that had fallen in the previous 24 hours having disappeared completely, Gallacher then won the 14th after Poulter found trouble with his approach and wasn’t on the green in four.
From almost the identical spot on the fairway at the par-4 14th, Poulter knocked his approach to less than three feet but Gallacher rolled in a curling 18-footer for a halve in birdies.
The Scot, making his debut in the £5.6 million event, looked favourite after finding the heart of the green at the par-3 16th only for Poulter to get up and down from a bunker to stay two up. When Poulter then two-putted from long range at the 17th, it left Gallacher needing to hole a 20-foot birdie putt to keep the match alive but it shaved the hole on the right.
It was Poulter’s 19th victory in the event, earning the 2010 winner at the same venue a share of fifth spot in the WGC Match Play record books.
He now faces American Bo Van Pelt, who was the first player to progress before quickly being joined by compatriot Matt Kuchar and Australian Jason Day. Spaniard Sergio Garcia joined them, though only after he three-putted from ten feet at the 16th and then squeezed through at the 20th against Thongchai Jaidee with a birdie.