It was totally out of left field, therefore, that the Englishman yesterday aimed what was essentially a slur at Gallacher’s nephew, Stephen, who, although blissfully unaware, delivered a timely response by carving out a four-under-par 68 in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Speaking at the European Tour’s flagship event – at Thomas Bjorn’s mercy now after the Dane opened up a five-shot lead – Jacklin cast doubt on the 39-year-old possessing the ruthless streak he believes is a requirement to handle the red-hot atmosphere of a Ryder Cup, for which Gallacher, lying 14th in the standings, is in the running to make his debut at Gleneagles in September.
“I’m not being unkind but Stephen looks a bit iffy sometimes, as if he’s not sure,” said Jacklin, whose comments certainly weren’t founded on the Lothians man beating a world-class field that included both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to become the first player in the event’s 25-year history to win the Dubai Desert Classic back-to-back earlier this season.
“He’s a bit tender-minded maybe,” added the two-times major winner in his assessment of the world No.40, who is also sitting ninth in this season’s Race to Dubai. “You’ve got to have that mental toughness. You’ve got to be able to walk through walls and be as hard as nails.”
Jacklin’s remarks were put to Gallacher, who certainly is one of the game’s nice guys and always has been, after he’d signed for six birdies on Wentworth’s West Course to catapult himself up the leaderboard heading into the final circuit. “They’ve come out of left field,” he admitted. “[But] it’s up to him. It’s his opinion. I’ve only met him once and that was about 12 years ago. I don’t know what he means by being ruthless enough – is he talking about match-play?”
Asked if just because he comes across as a nice guy it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a ruthless streak in him on the golf course, Gallacher, who’d be the first to admit he should probably have claimed more than three European Tour titles by now but wouldn’t be the first player to kick on after turning 40, added: “I shouldn’t think so.
“He can say what he wants. It’s not going to bother me, put it that way. The qualifying process is there to determine the best players for the team and, if you don’t make it, then it’s as simple as that.”
Also responding to the comments, Bernard, who followed his stint as Jacklin’s right-hand man by leading Europe on three occasions himself, including a dramatic win at Oak Hill in 1995, partly defended the Englishman, explaining that he felt Jacklin was trying to positive rather than negative. I think he is trying to be helpful, to be honest,” insisted the former Wentworth professional, who has acted as Stephen’s mentor throughout his career. “He knows he has the ability and obviously feels he should be going for it a lot more. I think he is highly respectful of Stephen’s game, but he obviously feels he should have a bit more confidence in himself that he can go right to the top. I think that’s what Tony means. I think he’s trying to be positive rather than knocking Stephen.”
Away from the controversy, it was a strange old day in Surrey. The start was delayed by three hours due to rain before three players in the last two groups opened with double-bogey 6s. It led to Irishman Shane Lowry briefly holding a two-shot lead, but this title appears to have Bjorn’s name written on it. It’s been hard work since the 43-year-old opened with his jaw-dropping ten-under-par 62, but he’s refusing to be budged at a place that was once home.He reeled off six birdies in a row from the 11th. The burst set up a five-under 67. On 15-under, he leads by five from Luke Donald and seven from Rory McIlroy. Among those waiting to pounce if the leader collapses is Francesco Molinari. The Italian made his move with a seven-under 65 – the day’s best. Alongside him on six-under, tied for seventh, is Greenock’s Chris Doak. His 69, which contained six birdies, has left the former Tartan Tour No 1 in line to land a career-best cheque today.
Gallacher is alongside Marc Warren (71) on three-under – three fewer than Aberdonian duo Paul Lawrie, whose 73 was made up of contrasting halves (39-34) and Richie Ramsay (74).