Stephen Gallacher eyes Desert Classic hat-trick
Stephen Gallacher, therefore, is going to require something special to join that elite group of hat-trick winners this week, but it’s certainly no pipedream.
A year ago, when he returned to the Emirates Golf Club as the Omega Dubai Desert Classic defending champion, few probably gave the Scot much chance of creating history by becoming the event’s first back-to-back winner.
He duly earned that place in the record books, however, by beating a field, one that had gathered to celebrate its 25th anniversary, including Woods, Rory McIlroy and the rest of the surviving former champions of the tournament known as the Major of the Middle East.
There’s no Woods this time around, but world No 1 McIlroy is here and so, too, is second-ranked Henrik Stenson, as well as Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and the aforementioned Els, the only man to have won the event three times but not on the trot.
In short, it’s the strongest field of the 2015 European Tour schedule so far, yet it’s doubtful if anyone in the line-up will stand up on the first tee on Thursday feeling more confident about taking on the Majlis Course again than Gallacher. It might be stretching things a bit to say that the Bathgate man feels he owns it, particularly as the likes of Els and McIlroy also have impressive records when it comes to this desert oasis.
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But here’s some interesting statistics to back up why that title hat-trick is definitely a possibility.
In the event’s last three stagings – he finished runner-up to Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello in 2012 before landing his double – Gallacher is a combined 56-under-par, impressive scoring by anyone’s standards.
And, if there’s anywhere in the world where Gallacher comes alive on a golf course, it’s when he stands on the tenth tee here. Three years ago, he was 14-under for the inward stretch, having bagged ten birdies and two eagles. In 2013, four eagles and nine birdies contributed towards an 11-under tally for the week coming home. Last year, he was 17-under for the back nine, including a stunning 28 in the third round. Two more eagles and 17 birdies were also signed for.
He used to have problems with the tee shot at the 13th, a 550-yard par-5. Not any more. A bit like a footballer practising penalties or free-kicks, Gallacher hit ball after ball either there or the range until he came up with the shot he needed. As a result, he’s 12-under for that hole alone over the past three years.
Ask McIlroy, who he reckons could stop him getting a win he’d dearly love on Sunday, and Gallacher might well be the first name he’d mention.
Not just based on horses for courses, either. He saw for himself how well his Ryder Cup team-mate is driving the ball when they played together at Yas Links on Sunday. As impressive, in fact, as McIlroy himself has been with the big stick over the past year or so.
It’s only natural that McIlroy, more than anyone else in the game – yes, even Woods – is the player fans want to see in golf right now. He’s earned that right on the back of racking up four majors by the age of 25 and heading to Augusta in April with a chance to complete the career Grand Slam.
At the same time, though, Gallacher will have a fair share both following and rooting for him this week because he’s won an army of admirers for the way he’s conducted himself as this event’s champion for the past two years.
“Following his win last year Stephen, came up to our members’ area and spent the whole evening having pictures taken and signing autographs,” said Andrew Whitelaw, a Longniddry man, who is general manager at The Emirates.
“It was a real personal touch, something you don’t see very often now, and the members still talk about it.”
They’d be talking until the cows came home if Gallacher picks up the event’s iconic coffee-pot shaped trophy for the third year running on Sunday.
“It is a big ask but you never know,” added Whitelaw. “Stephen plays so well around here, has had a couple of practice rounds with some our members recently and seems to be loving the course as much as ever.
“The treble? Now that would be a great story.”