Stephen Gallacher fights back after hitting a fan

Stephen Gallacher watches intently after taking his second shot on the first (Getty Images)
Stephen Gallacher watches intently after taking his second shot on the first (Getty Images)
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Stephen Gallacher overcame hitting a spectator with his opening tee shot to break par for the third time in five rounds at Augusta National.

The Lothians star opened the 79th Masters with a one-under-par 71 – the same first-round score he signed for on his debut in the event 12 months ago.

“I’ll take that,” he admitted afterwards. “You are always going to be happy with anything under par round here.”

Gallacher, whose gallery included former Hibs chairman Ken Lewandowski, pulled his opening tee shot into the trees separating the first and ninth fairways.

It hit a woman spectator on the hand, though she seemed to escape unscathed, but the wayward blow led to the Bathgate man, who was unaware of the incident, starting with a bogey.

He got that shot back at the par-3 fourth, a hole that doesn’t produce many birdies but did on this occasion after Gallacher had hit his 3-iron tee shot to around three feet.

Out in 36 after five straight pars from there, the three-times European Tour winner made the perfect start to his inward journey by converting a curling six-foot birdie putt at the tenth after a fine 6-iron approach.

That delighted son Jack as well as his other small band of supporters, including long-time sponsor Jim Jamieson and Kingsfield Golf Centre owner Robert Arkley.

Gallacher then picked up his third birdie of the day at the par-5 15th, where he had quite an adventure. After pulling his tee shot, he had to lay up and almost saw his third spin back into the water.

He made the most of that break, though, by then chipping and, despite dropping a shot at the next, he was satisfied with his day’s work.

“The most pleasing thing is to shoot under par,” he admitted. “I hit a couple of wayward drives at 14 and 15 and managed to get away with a birdie at one of them. I had a couple of three putts too but it evens itself out.

“I bogeyed the first but you have to think I’ve got 71 to go. The guy who wins will have bogeys. It’s just the fewer the better.”

It was Gallacher’s first competitive outing since the final round of the WGC-Cadillacc Championship in Miami nearly a month ago, having decided to try and come into the season’s opening major feeling as fresh as possible.

“I was just trying to take it easy,” he added. “I’ve got a few big events coming up and you have to pace yourself, especially round here. It takes it out of you mentally and physically.

“The greens were maybe a little bit softer than I’ve experienced but the course is perfect.”

Flat calm for most of his round, Gallacher played the closing stretch as a breeze started to pick up.

“That’s the biggest problem,” he said of such conditions. “When it’s constant you know what it is but when it gusts it can cause havoc. I had a good chance on 17, maybe 18 feet and then 20 feet on the last. So there were chances but you can’t force anything and just have to try and give yourself opportunities.”

Both Justin Rose and Charley Hoffman took plenty of the ones they set up for themselves as the pair shot matching five-under 67s to set the clubhouse target, with Russell Henley a shot behind.

Rose, who will defend his Scottish Open title at Gullane in July, has a habit of making good starts here, having led on three previous occasions after day one – in 2004, 2007 and 2008.

“There’s really no point getting ahead of yourself on this golf course,” he quickly pointed out after this latest burst out of the blocks. “I’ve definitely learned the hard way a couple of times, which was obviously a good experience.”

In 2004, the Englishman finished 22nd after holding the first-round lead. Three years later, he got off to another flying start before finishing fifth – his best effort here. In 2008, he dropped from pole position to 35th by the end.

“There’s so much golf left that I don’t even think it’s worth paying attention to (who is leading), but I’ve been there on the back nine and it feels great.”

Chasing his career Grand Slam, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy opened with a 71 - his ninth sonsecutive sub-par round in majors. Defending champion Bubba Watson also had a 71.

“I just wanted to get going and once I got the first hole out of the way I felt I could relax,” McIlroy said. “It was not quite what I wanted off the second tee but made a great five which was important.

“I just kept telling myself to be patient out there.

“It was a tricky day, the wind was swirling and anything under par was a pretty good score. It was nice to pick up a couple of shots on the back nine on the par fives and I am pretty satisfied.

“It was a round that could have got away from me. I just stayed patient, realising it’s a 72-hole tournament and not having to press too much. It’s good to get into red numbers.

“I obviously know what I can achieve this week but I am not letting myself think about it too much. Today was pretty good and I feel I can do better.”

Scotland amateur Bradley Neil shot a first round 78 (+6) on his debut in the event.