Gallacher: Everyone has an eye on the Tiger

Stephen Gallacher admits golf tournaments are different when Tiger Woods, below, is competing

Stephen Gallacher admits golf tournaments are different when Tiger Woods, below, is competing

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LOTHIANS star Stephen Gallacher hasn’t been surprised to see Tigermania break out this week ahead of the 79th Masters.

It’s his first appearance since early February, when he decided to take a break from the game after being afflicted with the chipping yips. His every step and shot so far has been scrutinised, with the 39-year-old adamant he’s ready to contend for another Green Jacket.

“Tiger being here ramps the whole thing up – it’s mega,” said Gallacher, one of three Scots who tee off tomorrow in a star-studded line-up. “I’ve seen it time and time again when he’s playing in an event.

“He used to play the Deutsche Bank on the European Tour and that was when I first saw the effect he has on tournaments.

“There’s a bigger buzz about them, his presence definitely creates a cracking atmosphere.

“They even had a ‘Tiger Tracker’ on Twitter as he was playing his practice round on Monday – when have you ever heard of that?”

Gallacher, right, believes it is good for golf that Woods is here this week, adding to the excitement being generated by Rory McIlroy’s career Grand Slam bid.

“I was speaking to some guys over here and they were saying the TV viewing figures have been down by 40 per cent due to him not playing,” added the Bathgate man.

“There’s even more mystique this year. People are desperate to see where he is with his chipping in particular after seeing that part of his game deteriorate so badly.”

In his practice round on Monday in the company of Mark O’Meara, Woods didn’t have any problems with shots close to the green.

Now he’s aiming to emulate Darren Clarke, who achieved the feat when claiming the 2011 Open, by winning a major as the world No.111.

“He’s come here this week having fallen out of the top 100 in the world after being No.1 two years ago,” said Gallacher. “Who would have thought that? Not me, that’s for sure, though in fairness he has been injured.

“He’s not someone who goes into a tournament simply making up the numbers. He came here twice last week for practice rounds and on the back of them feels he’s ready to contend this week.”

Gallacher played with both Woods, pictured right, and McIlroy in Dubai last year when he won the Desert Classic for the second year in a row.

He’s watched the pair make a massive impact on the game but says they have different personalities.

“Rory is more approachable,” said the 40-year-old of his Ryder Cup team-mate. “He’s always having a laugh with guys in the locker-room. Tiger, on the other hand, has always been more private.”

McIlroy is the favourite to win this week and join Woods, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the only golfers to win all four majors.

The 25-year-old is also bidding to complete a hat-trick of major victories after claiming both The Open and US PGA title in quick succession last summer.

McIlroy, of course, has demons to overcome here, having squandered a four-shot lead in the final round four years ago.

But, since bouncing back from that disappointment to record a runaway victory in the US Open in his next major, the Ulsterman has moved impressively towards this date with destiny.

Can he do it? Of course he can, though it’s 16 years since Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal recorded Europe’s last success here.

But watch out for a left-hander giving him the best run for his money. Six of the last 12 Masters have been won by of them – Phil Mickelson thrice, Bubba Watson twice plus Mike Weir.

“Bubba has won two of the last three so this course is seemingly made for his kind of game,” noted 2013 champion Adam Scott. “Rory, of course, has been so dominant over the last eight months so it’s hard to look past those two.

“But there are other guys on form – Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth would be the three main ones of the top off my head.”

And Woods?“It’s a little bit unknown with him because he hasn’t played for a few months – but anything is possible with Tiger,” added the Australian.

Other Scots joining Gallacher, who finished joint-34th on his debut last year, are former winner Sandy Lyle and amateur Bradley Neil.