Stephen Gallacher playing like Masters veteran

Stephen Gallacher plays out of a bunker at the second hole. Picture: Getty
Stephen Gallacher plays out of a bunker at the second hole. Picture: Getty
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ONE has achieved the feat at the first attempt; the other has done so for the 17th time. Added together, the feats of Stephen Gallacher and Sandy Lyle respectively has made it an excellent 78th Masters thus far for the Scottish contingent at Augusta National.

Gallacher, who has succeeded where his uncle, Bernard, failed in his one and only appearance in 1970 by making it to the weekend, may be among a record 24 first-timers in this week’s field, but you could easily think he has been here a dozen times before.

He has used practice rounds earlier in the week with both Lyle, the 1988 winner, and Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-times champion, to come up with a gameplan that is based entirely on plotting his way around and not being sucked in by pin positions that have “danger” written all over them. It has allowed Gallacher to negotiate 36 holes without any disasters, the closest he has come to one being when he caught a 6-iron “a wee bit heavy” for his second off a hanging lie at the 13th and just came up short of Rae’s Creek.

He has had nothing worse so far than a bogey and, almost every time, the 39-year-old’s calm temperament has allowed him to bounce back with birdies almost straight away.

On the back of an excellent opening-day 71, he duly tagged on a level-par 72 for a one-under halfway total. When he finished at around 1pm local time, he was sitting just outside the top ten.

But, with the wind starting to whip up as the later starters headed out, there was a chance he could be placed even higher than that going into the final 36 holes.

“I’m glad to be in the red numbers,” admitted Gallacher after a round that contained four birdies and four bogeys.

“It’s a bit tricky out there today. The wind is a bit up and the greens are firming up. So I’m delighted with par. I probably could have [gone even lower], but I got away with a few things and I got lucky on a couple of things.”

Dressed in black for his second circuit, Gallacher safely found the first fairway once again, achieving the feat in more conventional fashion than playing partner Nick Watney, who sent his drive off to the right only for it to clatter off a tree and end up not far from the Scot’s ball.

After seeing his approach pitch almost pin high only to spin back off the green, Gallacher produced a great up and down to save par, a feat he also achieved at the third.

There, he used a shot Lyle had shown him earlier in the week, whereby the ball is struck with the leading edge of the wedge to attain more control than a putter.

A yard or two from being very close to the pin but up against the face of a deep bunker instead, he dropped his first shot of the day at the par-3 fourth but repaired that damage by rolling in a near 40-footer for his second 2 of the week at the sixth.

“A bit different from yesterday,” he said of the seven-footer then.

Left off the tee then plugged in a greenside bunker, from where he had no option but to play away from the hole, a second bogey went down on the card at the seventh, but his bouncebackability paid dividends again with a birdie at the eighth.

There, he got a touch lucky when his second hit some branches but went through them instead of left. It’s all about making the most of such breaks, though, and he duly did with another up and down, this time holing from around three feet.

While it cost him a bogey for the second day running, the par-4 11th, where the green is guarded on the left by water, is a perfect example of how Gallacher has listened to those Masters sages. Explaining how he’s been playing to a spot on the right edge of the green, he pointed out: “It’s not a flag you go straight at with a 3-iron in your hand!”

He went straight at the pin at the 12th, hit it to three feet for a third birdie of the day. And, though that shot was given back straight away, his description of a “good bogey” at the next was spot on.

“I only had a 6-iron [for his second shot] and I hit it a wee bit heavy,” he reported of a blow that just pulled on the brakes in time to stop it rolling into Rae’s Creek. “I just completely mishit it and came up short and was then too aggressive with my chip.”

For the second day running, he made the next par-5, the 15th, look easy, finding the water-guarded green with a 6-iron this time after launching a drive well over 300 yards to set up a second birdie there, too. It could have sparked a run of four closing birdies – he wasn’t far away with attempts at the 16th, th and 18th – but he knows not to get greedy here. “I drove the ball well again today, missing just one fairway,” added Gallacher. “It’s a very strategic course. I think everybody back home knows how to play it, it’s just a case of trying to do it – and that’s the hard part.”

Pointed out to him that Bernard, who has been a big influence on his career, had missed the cut here 44 years ago, he reckoned new technology had made it easier for him to achieve the feat.

“I wouldn’t have liked to have tried to play here with a bit of wood [persimmon drivers], to be honest, and that small ball [the old-sized one]. So I think things have changed.

“But I’m delighted in the position I’m in.

“My aim now is to just do the same again and try to get into contention on Sunday.”

It has been a dream debut so far and two more exciting days now lie ahead for Scotland’s top-ranked player.