STEPHEN Gallacher is ready to tap into a wealth of Masters experience again to help him get reacquainted with Augusta National.
The Lothians star finished a creditable 34th on his debut in the event 12 months ago, especially when one of his rounds was an 81.
The three others, which were a combined three-under, were superb efforts from a Masters virgin, though he didn’t feel like one due to the influence of two former winners of the event.
Gallacher played practice rounds with both Sandy Lyle, the 1998 champion, and two-times Green Jacket recipient Jose Maria Olazabal.
He learned more about the course and its unique test doing that than he might have done otherwise in a lifetime, so is planning to repeat the exercise again next week. “I thought it was unbelievable to play with Sandy and Olazabal last year,” admitted the 40-year-old, who heads out to Georgia tomorrow accompanied by his son Jack. “Olazabal, remember, used to play all his practice rounds there with Seve [Ballesteros], so he learned from a master.
“You can’t beat that sort of insight and I’m sure I’ll get important wee reminders from playing with these guys again.
“At the 11th, for example, Ollie said that you should always play for the front right rather than going straight at it as you’ll have a better chance from there.”
Gallacher hasn’t played competitively since the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral almost a month ago.
He could have added a tournament to his schedule but decided to stick to a plan that involved getting to Augusta in plenty of time to get a number of practice rounds under his belt.
“It’s a bit like when I first played St Andrews,” he added. “It’s also a place that you need to keep playing a lot to learn how subtle it is and where you have to leave yourself in certain winds. There are certain courses you play and you find it easy straight away. At Augusta, though, it is all about angles and positions and in the case of both Sandy and Olazabal you are tapping into some much experience.
“I think that’s invaluable and it’s probably why I’ve chosen not to play since my last event.”
After opening with rounds of 71 and 72 last year, Gallacher was going along nicely until he had a tough back nine on the Saturday session before bouncing back magnificently to sign off with a 70.
“The thing with Augusta is that your concentration has to be 100 per cent all the time as it is one of those courses that can bite you at any moment if you hit the wrong shot,” said the three-times European Tour winner.
“That’s why I’ve decided to come out early. I wanted to reacquaint myself with it and hopefully get to play it in a couple of different winds.
“If getting out early can save me one or two shots then great. If I could have swapped my 81 last year for a 69 then I’d have finished in a pretty decent position.”
The only position Rory McIlroy is thinking about finishing on Sunday week, of course, is first place.
Achieving that feat would mean the superstar 25-year-old becoming just the sixth player to complete golf’s career ‘Grand Slam’.
“I wouldn’t mind being under that pressure,” said Gallacher of the spotlight his Ryder Cup team-mate will be under for the season’s opening major tournament.
“Going for a third major in a row and the chance to complete a career ‘Grand Slam’ – that’s not bad pressure to have.
“If I finish ahead of Rory, I’ll be happy as he bids to earn his place in the history books.
“I think he will take the week in his stride. He’s a great ambassador for the game and a top lad, too. Okay, he chucked a club into the water a few weeks back, but the way he handled that afterwards was brilliant.”