Henrik Stenson may feel right at home in Dubai, having been based in the UAE for 10 years earlier in his career, but the Open champion has a rival when it comes to fondess for and familiarity with the Emirates Golf Club.
There’s good reason, after all, why the likes of Paul Lawrie jokingly refer to it on Twitter as the @stevieggolf course. Stephen Gallacher has shot 62, 63 twice and is the only player in the event’s history to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic back-to-back.
Those triumphs in 2013 and 2014 were sandwiched by a second and third-place finish in the event dubbed the “Major of the Middle East”. The 42-year-old was struggling with a wrist injury when he made an early exit 12 months ago. Fully fit again, he’s feeling confident that a venue with one of the most dramatic backdrops in the game will bring out the best of him once more this week.
“It’s being familiar with it,” said Gallacher, one of six Scots in the field on this occasion. “Familiarity is why you play your home course well. You know it like the back of your hand. You’ve been in every scenario, you know the lines, you know the clubs, the run-offs at the green. I’ve played it so often, and when you’ve had success on it, it doubles the familiarity.
“You have good memories from coming here, and I think it can raise your game. You see it in all sports. Guys do well at certain places, whether it’s a golf course, race track or football pitch. They seem to do well when they feel comfortable somewhere. I think that’s all it is, really.”
While disappointed to have missed the cut in the opening two events of the Middle East Swing, particularly so after he recorded top-25 finishes in both Australia and Hong Kong before Christmas at the start of the new European Tour campaign, Gallacher is in good fettle.
“My game isn’t far away, just a wee bit rusty,” he said. “I played great in Abu Dhabi and okay in Qatar. I’ve only been over par once in 10 rounds, so it’s very close. You’ve just got to keep working. It’s early in the season. I’m really happy the way it’s going and it’s just a case of getting a bit of momentum going.”
This week’s event will determine whether the Lothians man is heading east or west from here on Sunday night. “I need a top 10 to get into next week’s event in Malaysia because it’s a tri-sanctioned event and there are only 60 spots for European Tour players,” he said. “If I was getting into that, I would also play in Australia the following week. If not, I’ll go home and then head back out for India (the Hero Indian Open in mid-March).”
Stenson won this event in 2007 and has recorded six other top-10s, including last year, when Englishman Danny Willett holed a testing putt on the final green to pip compatriot Andy Sullivan and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello.
“It’s obviously a golf course that suits my game,” said the Swede, who secured a second Race to Dubai title on his last competitive outing in the city in the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.
“You’ve got to hit the fairways and that’s something I normally do pretty well. I also think having had Dubai as my base for ten years and having that feel of being home again means there’s a lot of positives coming here to the Middle East and starting off the year.”
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