Stephen Gallacher’s joy at holing a 30-foot eagle putt at the last to secure a seventh top-10 finish in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic turned to disappointment after learning that excellent effort hasn’t got him into the next European Tour event in Malaysia.
It had been thought that the Lothians man had done enough to secure a spot in the Maybank Championship after he signed off with a flawless 66 at Emirates Golf Club to catapult the two-time champion here from 28th at the start of the final round into ninth behind wire-to-wire winner Sergio Garcia.
A top-10 regulation was, in fact, in place for the final event on the circuit’s ‘Middle East Swing’, but, in addition to the winner, it’s actually only five spots that are up for grabs and they aren’t offered out if players decide not to take up the opportunity.
That’s what has happened on this occasion with runner-up Henrik Stenson, as well as English duo Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick, leaving American Peter Uihlein as the only player among the five in question here moving on to Malaysia, with South African George Coetzee having until lunchtime on Monday to decide if he’ll be doing likewise. Dane Lasse Jensen, who tied for third with Hatton, was already in the field for the £2.4 million event, which starts on Thursday.
“This is a highly unusual scenario caused by some of the marquee players in this week’s top 10 not going on to Malaysia,” said Iain Stoddart, Gallacher’s manager. “It is disappointing as Stephen was keen to play in the Maybank Championship, having been unable to secure an invitation.”
The unfortunate disappointment means Gallacher will now be heading for Kingsfield, his base on the outskirts of Linlithgow, than Kuala Lumpur, with his next scheduled event being the Indian Open in a month’s time.
Earlier, the 42-year-old had been excited about the prospect of playing in his fourth event in a row after producing a brilliant last-day performance at the venue that has become his happiest hunting ground by far on the European Tour.
Seeing the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club bring out the best in him yet again, he signed off in style, even by his high standards at the UAE venue, with a closing 66 for a 10-under-par total.
That he secured a fifth top-10 finish in the last six years in the event was a splendid effort given that, unlike Garcia, he’d played his opening two rounds in some of the toughest conditions witnessed at this venue.
“I think only 18 guys on our side of the draw made the cut whereas 50 guys from the other side made it,” Gallacher pointed out afterwards. “When you look at it that way, you are kind of up against it. I think the leader on our side was four-under, so I was only three off the lead on my side, if you look it like that. I
“ was never going to have a chance of winning it. It was just a case of trying to finish as high as I could when the weather calmed down at the weekend.”
A flawless last-day effort - only Jensen bettered it with his 65 - was just as impressive as the way he closed out back-to-back victories in the event dubbed the ‘Major of the Middle East’ in 2013 and 2014.
Birdies at the fourth, fifth, 10th and 13th set up the chance but it was a spectacular finish that looked as though it had extended this particular stretch of the season rather than having to wait until the Indian Open for his next outing.
Due to the Malaysian event being tri-sanctioned, his top-40 money-winners category wasn’t going to get him in there, so it seemed as though it was top 10 or bust only for circumstances to prove otherwise.
“It was a nice way to finish,” he said. “I knew that I probably needed an eagle to get me in top 10. I had a perfect number - 235 yards into the wind with a rescue - for my second so thought I could have a go at the pin and it ended up pretty good. I’d been over-borrowing with my putts all through the back nine. I gave that one a bit less borrow and a bit more pace. I was delighted to see it go in.”
This is Gallacher’s best finish since he tied for the same position in the Portugal Masters towards the end of the 2015 campaign, though, in fairness, he was being hindered badly by a wrist injury this time 12 months ago that subsequently required surgery. Despite a lay-off following that, the three-time European Tour winner then had to completely change his swing after being warned that his career would otherwise be threatened.
“My game feels good - it is starting to take shape,” he said. I had to make the change last year, when it felt good on the range but not brilliant on the course. I’m starting to get there now. I’m starting to hit shots that I want to hit. I’m keeping the distances right. It’s coming.
“I’m happy to finish off the Middle East Swing on this note. I actually played pretty good all three weeks. It’s just nice to put in a good round and a good tournament.”
The three other Scots to make the cut - Paul Lawrie, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson - all finished over par, as did Rayhan Thomas, the UAE-based Indian amateur who won the Scottish Boys’ Open Stroke-Play Championship at Lanark last summer.