Stephen Gallacher is hoping to be back in Rory McIlroy’s company when the Omega Dubai Desert Classic reaches the business end tomorrow.
It would be the perfect end to a dream week for the Lothians star in his defence of the title in the event’s 25th anniversary.
Even better if he could become its first back-to-back winner – and that’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
Gallacher survived a mid-round wobble to card a second-round 71 at the Emirates Golf Club in the same group as McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
It left him joint-sixth on seven-under – four behind halfway leader McIlroy, with just four players sitting between the Scot and the world No 6.
“I played the front nine brilliantly, never missing a shot really,” reflected Gallacher on covering his first eight holes in two-under. “Then I pushed my second shot into the ninth and got a terrible lie to drop my first shot of the day.
“I hooked my drive at the tenth into a bush and then did it again at the 12th to finish behind a tree.”
A birdie at the 16th – the hole he eagled in the final round 12 months ago en route to a three-shot success – repaired some of that damage.
“But I also hooked one at the 17th going for the green and bogeyed that,” he added.
“However, it was nice to finish with a birdie after playing the last well, hitting a good drive then a 5-wood on to the green.
“It was tougher today as the wind was swirling. The greens were also firmer and a bit crispy.
“But, sitting just four shots off the lead, I’m still in there with a shout and hopefully I am playing again with Rory on Sunday.”
He’d be just as happy if it was Woods again, though his chances of being in the mix were hampered by a 73 that left the world No.1 eight off the lead.
With Friday being the start of the weekend in the UAE, a massive crowd was out watching the marquee group of Gallacher, Woods and McIlroy.
“Damian and I were talking about how we thought it was actually the final round on Sunday with all the spectators out there,” admitted the Bathgate man.
“It was good, though, and I really enjoyed playing with both Tiger and Rory. They’re just normal guys and out on the course you’ve just got to get on with your own thing.”
Gallacher had Welshman Jamie Donaldson for company today but insisted he’d be just as motivated in that pairing.
“There will be no danger of me feeling it’s a bit like after the Lord Mayor’s Show,” he said.
McIlroy set out today with Brooks Koepka, winner of last year’s Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore, breathing down his neck. It followed the 23-year-old American carding a joint-best-of-the day 65 to move into contention for a first European Tour triumph.
“Winning in Aviemore was big – it’s the reason I’m standing here and playing in the same group as Rory McIlroy tomorrow,” said Koepka.
McIlroy looked set to lead by more than just one shot after moving to 12-under for the tournament after ten holes only to see his momentum halted after missing a short par putt at the 13th.
“Even though I didn’t play as well as I would’ve liked today, I’m still leading the golf tournament,” said the two-times major winner.
“I’ve been in this position before and I’ve gone on to win, so I know what it takes.
“Hopefully that was my bad round out of the way and I can shoot a couple of better ones at the weekend and hopefully lift the trophy.”
In addition to Gallacher, four other Scots – Paul Lawrie, Chris Doak, Colin Montgomerie and Scott Jamieson – are still standing in the final two rounds.