Bernard Gallacher today heaped praise on nephew Stephen for his unique Dubai double – but joked he’d also left him fearing another health scare.
Back-to-back wins in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic have set up an exciting schedule for Stephen, who recovered from a shaky start in the final round to become the first player to retain the prestigious title in 25 years of the event.
He’s definitely now in the WGC Match Play Championship in Arizona in a fortnight’s time, having already secured his spot in the WGC Cadillac Championship in Miami a fortnight later through finishing in the top 20 in last season’s Race to Dubai.
Having climbed to 37 in the world rankings on the back of his one-shot win over Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo at the Emirates Golf Club, Stephen is also set to make his Masters debut in April.
That will complete the set of majors for the Lothians star, who has also given his Ryder Cup hopes a major boost after jumping from 28th to 14th on the European points list for September’s match at Gleneagles.
Stephen had his appetite for team events whetted by playing in both the Seve Trophy and Royal Trophy last year – and now he’s earned another chance to impress in that environment.
Waiting for him as he came off the 18th green after holing a title-winning three-feet par putt was Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and he’s asked the Scot to play in the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia at the end of March.
“Stephen’s win means an awful lot in terms of both the World Rankings and Ryder Cup,” Bernard told the Edinburgh Evening News after watching on TV at home in Ascot as his nephew dug deep to secure a winner’s cheque for close to £250,000.
“He was under pressure all week as the defending champion and playing with both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the opening two rounds but he coped well.”
Paired again with world No. 6 McIlroy in the final round, Stephen let his two-shot overnight cushion slip by starting bogey-bogey.
He’d slipped two off the lead after being four-over for the first eight holes before coming home in 33, four-under, having covered the same stretch on Saturday in a stunning 28 shots.
Needing a par at the last, he laid up with his second at the par-5 before seeing his approach come dangerously close to spinning back into the water.
“It was a bit of white-knuckle start while that finish hasn’t done my heart much good,” added Bernard, who cheated death when he suffered a cardiac arrest in Aberdeen last year.
“The good thing for him, though, was that despite the start no-one was out of sight when he looked at the scoreboard starting the back nine while he also putted well on slick greens.”
Stephen, who lives just outside Linlithgow - just 37 miles from Gleneagles - admitted he’s determined to follow in Bernard’s Ryder Cup spikemarks.
“I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself, but certainly with my uncle having played in the Ryder Cup eight times, been captain three times and vice captained twice, it’s pretty much all I grew up watching,” he said. “And then, when it’s 37 miles from the house, in my generation, it’s never going to be in Scotland again.
“It’s always been a long-term goal of mine to play in a Ryder Cup. It just so happens that the best spell I’m having is heading into the one that’s in Scotland and hopefully I can amass the points to give [European captain] Paul [McGinley] a headache.”
Gallacher outscored Woods in all three rounds they played in Dubai - twice in the main event and also the Champions Challenge.
The 39-year-old was also four shots better than McIlroy in the final round as the two-times major winner closed with a 74 to finish joint-ninth.
That left him bitterly disappointed but, at the same time, McIlroy said of Gallacher’s back-nine effort: “The way he played down the stretch was impressive.”