Stephen Gallacher was looking for “more of the same” as he prepared to set out today with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy standing between him and a Dubai Desert Classic hat-trick.
McIlroy, the Open and US PGA champion, signed off with three birdies in a second-round 64 to move to the head of affairs at halfway in the Omega-sponsored event at the Emirates Golf Club.
On 14-under, he led by one from Marc Warren, with Gallacher just three behind McIlroy in joint-fifth after another stunning effort from the Lothians man on the Majlis Course.
With Warren having set the clubhouse target after a morning 65 that contained nine birdies, Gallacher fell six shots behind his fellow Scot after running up a double-bogey 6 at the 12th.
But he bounced back from that in brilliant style, repairing the damage straight away with a birdie at the 13th – his favourite hole in golf – then picking up three more shots in a row from the 15th.
“All you want to be is in touch going into the last couple of days and I’ve managed to achieve that,” said Gallacher. “Now I’ll need more of the same to be standing here on Sunday again as the champion.”
That, of course, will require something special with McIlroy, the 2011 winner, out in front and playing as well as he was in the second half of last season.
But Gallacher is now an incredible 66-under-par for his last 14 rounds here so has every reason to fancy his chances of becoming just the sixth player in European Tour history to win the same event three years in a row.
“That was the strongest I think I’ve played around here,” insisted the Bathgate man. “I gave myself a lot of chances, stayed patient and holed some putts at the end. It was quite tricky today. The wind was quite blustery at the end so I was delighted with the finish.”
Before teeing off, Gallacher had received a nice surprise when Robert Arkley, his big mate and owner of Kingsfield Golf Centre at Linlithgow, turned up without him knowing anything about it.
Gallacher, of course, practises at Kingsfield when he’s at home under the watchful eye of Alan McCloskey, who also works with Warren so has two players in contention to win the ‘Major of the Middle East’ this time around.
“Alan is the sort of coach who teaches players to teach themselves,” said Warren after stepping up his bid for a Masters invitation by breaking into the world’s top 50 by the end of next month.
“We are all after the perfect swing, but it’s not possible. I was guilty of thinking that it was in the past.”
McIlroy has the scent of victory in his nostrils again after finishing runner-up in his last three events, including the opening event of the Gulf Swing in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago.
“It’s a very bunched leaderboard so I know I’m going to have to go out there and make a bunch of birdies over the weekend like I have the first two days,” said the 25-year-old.
“But this course suits my aggressive game style. You can fire at pins with the high ball flight that I have – it sort of plays into my hands.”
Morningside-based Richie Ramsay made the cut on three-under, one better than Turnhouse-attached Chris Doak, who had six birdies in seven holes around the turn.