Stephen Gallacher will head out with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the opening round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic tomorrow believing he deserves to be on the same stage as two of golf’s big guns.
The Lothians star has landed the dream draw in the event’s 25th staging after chalking up a second European Tour triumph with his three-shot victory at the Emirates Golf Club 12 months ago.
Gallacher, pictured, has already played with Woods this week, outscoring the world No.1 by two shots with a three-under 69 to finish just outside the prize-money in yesterday’s pre-event Champions’ Challenge. But it will be his first round in the company of McIlroy, a two-times major winner and the world No.1 before relinquishing that position to Woods around a year ago.
“If you are going to win this event, then last year was the time to do it when you see the prestige it has this year with all the former winners coming back for the 25th staging,” said Gallacher’s manager, Iain Stoddart, of the 39-year-old’s pairing for the main event as well as playing with both Woods and former Masters champion Fred Couples in the 18-hole warm-up. “The organisers have done a great job bringing the whole thing together and came up with a classy move by inviting Javier Ballesteros, Seve’s son, to represent his father in the Champions’ Challenge.
“Commercially, winning here last year moved things up a notch for Stevie, but, more than anything, it has proved to him that he can live at the top table in the game.”
Gallacher came to the last in the Champions’ Challenge needing an eagle-3 to post a six-under 66 and share the top prize with Henrik Stenson and Rafael Cabrera-Bello. But, after firing a 3-wood over the green with his second and then dropping into a bad lie from near the corporate hospitality unit, he ran up a bogey to finish fifth.
The 39-year-old, though, still beat Couples and Woods, and Stoddart, founding partner of Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports Management, reckons that experience will stand his client in good stead for the main event. “Playing with Tiger already this week will have helped him adapt to what comes with being in the same group as Tiger,” added Stoddart. “On the one hand, there can be a lot going on around that might be a distraction but, on the other, it can be something that people can thrive on and hopefully Stevie will feel more comfortable in that company after yesterday’s experience. There are certain events in the year that you can almost bank on him doing well – this being one and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, too.”
Gallacher, who heads an 11-strong Scottish contingent in the last leg of the European Tour’s Middle East Swing, has plenty of support here in the emirate. His parents, Jim and Wilma, have made the journey out along with Gallacher’s wife Helen and their two kids, Jack and Ellie, while senior figures in one of his sponsors, Linlithgow-based FPG, are here, too. “When it comes to his sponsors, it is important for Stephen that he has a relationship that is not a faceless agreement,” stressed Stoddart. “He engages with each and every one of them and has personal relationships with them all. It definitely goes beyond putting a badge on his shirt.”