Stephen Gallacher gutted after Els defeat

Ernie Els shakes hands with Stephen Gallacher (Getty Images)
Ernie Els shakes hands with Stephen Gallacher (Getty Images)
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Gutted Stephen Gallacher was struggling to hide his disappointment after missing out on a desert showdown today with US Open champion Justin Rose.

That tasty prospect was agonisingly close for the Lothians star when he stood two up with three to play on Ernie Els in the first round of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play in Arizona.

But it was snatched from under his nose as Els went through instead, winning at the 19th, after making the most of being let off the hook when Gallacher missed a four-foot birdie putt to win at the last.

“I am very disappointed, obviously,” admitted Gallacher. “I had putts that lipped out on the last three holes and I’ve no idea how the putt for birdie on 18 stayed out.”

It was tough for Gallacher, who had matched the four-times major winner blow for blow from the moment Els knocked his tee shot close at the par-3 third.

Two up after winning the ninth and tenth, the Linlithgow-based player was pegged back to one before making a great birdie from an awkward spot at the 15th to give himself some breathing space again.

With the honour, a good tee shot from Gallacher at the next could easily have sealed the deal, but he put it through the back of the green and lost that to a par-3.

A par also proved good enough for Els at the 17th as he squared matters, but Gallacher looked to have done enough to get his nose back in front again at the last.

There, the 39-year-old, after watching Els put his approach in a deep greenside bunker, hit a majestic second to just a few feet. But, after his opponent brilliantly splashed out to be conceded a par-4, Gallacher watched in horror as his putt for victory stayed above ground.

“You have to hand it to Ernie, coming up with a bunker shot like that under pressure, but that’s the sort of player he is,” he added. “He played the 19th hole well, too, but I feel I should have won it before that. It’s very disappointing.”

Sharing that feeling after also making an early exit were three former world No.1s – Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.

Past winner Ian Poulter, world No 6 Zach Johnson and 2011 USPGA champion Keegan Bradley were other casualties.

But top seed Henrik Stenson got his first win in seven attempts at this course, having landed the title at another of the layouts at Dove Mountain in 2007.

Rory McIlroy, beaten in the first round 12 months ago, made no mistake this time, while other opening-day winners included defending champion Matt Kuchar.

Donald, the 2011 winner, suffered a surprise heavy defeat at the hands of rising European star Matteo Manassero.