Stephen Gallacher has a two-fold aim at Valhalla

Stephen Gallacher hopes to secure a Ryder Cup spot
Stephen Gallacher hopes to secure a Ryder Cup spot
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Stephen Gallacher is ready to squeeze every point he can from the qualifying process in his bid to see a Ryder Cup dream come true.

The battle to make Paul McGinley’s side for the match at Gleneagles next month reaches boiling point in this week’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Already assured places on the European team are Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer, while Victor Dubuisson and Thomas Bjorn are also on course to secure automatic spots.

Nine of those are up for grabs, with Graeme McDowell having moved into eighth position on the list after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, with Jamie Donaldson lying ninth. It leaves the Welshman in a vulnerable position as the battle reaches the business end because his lead is less than one point over tenth-placed Luke Donald on the world list.

The first four players – currently McIlroy, Dubuisson, Garcia and Stenson – will come off the European points list and the next five from the world list. As things stand, Gallacher is most likely to qualify automatically from the world list as he’s Donald’s nearest challenger, trailing the Englishman by less than eight points.

Interestingly, Gallacher holds a cushion of more than seven points over Ian Poulter and also has the likes of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood lying behind him.

But, with all of them being seasoned Ryder Cup campaigners, the 39-year-old from Bathgate knows it would be foolish to think he’d be guaranteed a captain’s pick if that was still the situation when the qualifying ends on August 31. Therefore, Gallacher will go all out in a bid to get in automatically and he’s set to play four weeks in a row if that’s what is require to achieve his goal.

“I’m definitely staying on in America after the US PGA to play in next week’s Wyndham Championship,” said the double Dubai Desert Classic winner, who has received an invitation for the PGA Tour event at Greensboro in North Carolina.

It will carry bigger world ranking points than the European Tour event in Denmark next week, but Gallacher will be back on his home circuit after that to make his final push.

“I’ll go to both the Czech Republic and Italy (the last two counting events on the European Tour schedule) unless I’m inside the top nine by then and it is mathematically impossible for me to be overtaken,” he added. “I’m totally committed to the cause and Paul knows that.”

Bathgate, of course, has a rich Ryder Cup history, with both Eric Brown and Bernard Gallacher, Stephen’s uncle, having played and then been captain in the biennial event.

Stephen is desperate to follow in their spikemarks and would love if that happened less than 40 miles from his West Lothian home. “I’m in the hunt, I just need to finish it off now,” admitted the world No.31. What’s that going to take? “How long is a piece of string,” he added.

“All I can do is go out and play the best I possibly can in every event. I can’t rely on what other people are doing. I’ve just got to go out and qualify under my own steam.”

It will be a terrific effort if Gallacher makes it, especially as he’s up against so many players with Ryder Cup pedigree.

He has tried to deflect as much attention as possible away from his qualifying bid, especially after he became the only realistic hope of having a Scot in the European team. But, apart perhaps from Poulter, no-one is more determined to be facing Tom Watson’s American side on the PGA Centenary Course from September 26-28.

“It would be bigger than the Commonwealth Games; playing in a Ryder Cup in Scotland would be my Olympics,” he declared in trying to bring a bit of topicality to his Gleneagles goal.

“We don’t get many chances to play in a team event, especially on home soil, and that’s why I’ll be giving it my all over the next few weeks.”

Joining Gallacher at Valhalla, where Europe lost the 2008 Ryder Cup under Nick Faldo’s captaincy, are three of his compatriots.

Marc Warren qualified through the top-12 finish he secured at Oak Hill 12 months ago while Jacksonville-based Russell Knox got in from being in the world’s top 100.

Last but not least, Colin Montgomerie is back playing against the young guns this week after securing a spot as the US Senior PGA champion.

The field includes 18 of the 24 participants in the 2008 Ryder Cup – ten Europeans and eight Americans.

But the man to beat will undoubtedly be McIlroy, who heads into the event having reclaimed the world No.1 spot on the strength of his back-to-back wins in The Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.

Can he make it a hat-trick? The way he’s playing at the moment anything is possible when it comes to McIlroy.

From a Lothians perspective, though, all eyes will be on Stephen Gallacher in Louisville, where one more big performance will go a long way towards seeing that Ryder Cup dream come true.