STEPHEN GALLACHER will have world No.1 Tiger Woods among his rivals when he defends the Dubai Desert Classic title at the end of this month.
The Lothians star is secretly hoping he’ll get the chance to play with another American ace when former champions return to help mark the event’s 25th anniversary.
“It’s great that some of my heroes, like Fred Couples, are going to be there,” admitted Gallacher as he looked forward to returning to the Emirates Golf Club. “I’ve not played with him before and that would be good.”
Those former champions also include two-times Open champion Ernie Els, another Claret Jug winner in Mark O’Meara and two other former major winners in Jose Maria Olazabal and Rory McIlroy.
“The line-up is a ‘Who’s Who in Golf’ and it’s good to be going there as the defending champion,” added the Bathgate man, who shot stunning rounds of 62 and 63 in adding his name to the roll of honour just under a year ago.
Before this year’s main event, a ‘Champions Challenge’ is being held on the Tuesday, when Javier Ballesteros, Seve’s son, will join the former winners in an 18-hole stroke-play event.
“It’s offering $300,000 to the winner, $200,000 to the runner-up and $100,000 for third, which isn’t far off what’s up for grabs over 72 holes in the event itself,” noted Gallacher.
By the time that comes around, the 39-year-old is hoping his game will have warmed up nicely. His 2014 campaign starts tomorrow in the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban before heading to the Middle East for the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship then the Qatar Masters.
“I’ve only watched a couple of shots from last year in Dubai,” admitted Gallacher, one of them no doubt having been the wedge he holed for an eagle-2 at the 16th in the final round. “That was a bizarre week when everything went right,” he added. “I actually feel I’m hitting the ball better a year on and also putting better. I’ve worked hard and everything is coming together.”
Gallacher’s big 2014 goal is to make the European team that will defend the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September.
His appetite for team golf has been whetted by Seve Trophy and Royal Trophy appearances in the last few months, the latter having proved a somewhat bitter-sweet experience in China last month.
While the former Walker Cup player was delighted to be part of a winning team under Olazabal, he was disappointed to lose his three matches. Two of those defeats were in the company of Paul Lawrie, the Scottish duo going down to Thai pair Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Jaidee also beat Gallacher in the last-day singles.
“The Royal Trophy was brilliant and Jose Maria Olazabal was superb – he was great with everyone,” said the Lothians man. “He thought Paul and I were a strong pairing to go out first. We were under par on both days but not enough unfortunately. We were eight under in the fourballs but lost 2 and 1. I think I was four under in my singles but lost 4 and 2.
“I’m not making excuses but, whereas I’d had three weeks off and Paul six, they’d played the week before the Thai Open. They are also good players and never missed a shot in three days.
“I was obviously a bit despondent at the end as you want to win some points but, as the same time, it was good that we claimed the trophy. It takes you a while to get back into team golf again – but I like it.”
While Gallacher would now love to follow in his uncle Bernard’s spikemarks by playing in the Ryder Cup, he admits that cutting back his schedule in the long-term is a priority.
“I played five weeks in a row towards the end of last season and doubt I’ll ever do that again,” he admitted. “Five weeks away from your family is tough on its own but it’s tiring, too.
“Look how well Ian Poulter did in the Final Series last year as a result of going into that feeling fresh. But it’s tough for us to miss events like the Dunhill Links and the Portugal Masters – two brilliant tournaments.
“Poulter’s season had finished on the PGA Tour so it was easier for him. I spoke to Jamie Donaldson about schedules and he’s someone that doesn’t play that much. Monty, when he was in his prime, didn’t play that much, neither does [Tiger] Woods or [Rory] McIlroy.
“They want to be fresh for the times they do want to play and I’m going to look into that. It’s quality over quantity and I’d rather play less and better than play average in lots of events.”
With regular caddie Damian Moore set to become a father soon, Gallacher has one of his closest friends, Aiden O’Reilly, on the bag for the first two events of the year.
“He’s caddied for me in the past, including the Tour School when I had to go back there and Switzerland when I did well there,” revealed Gallacher, who is flying the Saltire at Durban Country Club in the winner’s-only field along with Colin Montgomerie. “He really gets into it and he’d be a great caddie. He also knows me really well.”