Stephen Gallacher reckons “iron man” Russell Knox can match his own feat of making the cut on his Masters debut.
Knox, the first Scot to win a World Golf Championship with a victory in the HSBC Champions in China last year, flies the Saltire along with 1988 winner Sandy Lyle in the event’s 80th staging this week.
Like Gallacher two years ago, the 30-year-old has played one of his practice rounds with Lyle, the pair going the full 18 holes in sun-kissed conditions at Augusta National yesterday.
Knox is looking to do better than simply being around for the weekend, believing his best is good enough to get in the mix.
But that’s his first target and Gallacher reckons his compatriot certainly has the game to play in all four rounds.
“Russell is a fantastic player and just needs to go there and enjoy it,” said the Lothians star, an absentee on this occasion after playing in the season’s opening major for the last two years.
“He’s a brilliant iron player and I remember Nick Faldo saying that’s what helped him win round there. He’d be able to hit it pin high and hopefully Russell can capitalise on that strength in his game.”
For his debut, Gallacher not only picked Lyle’s brains but also had a practice round with two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
“I thought it was well worth playing round there with someone who’d won it,” he added. “That’s why I went out in one of my first practice round with Sandy Lyle and also another one with Jose-Maria. You only need to learn a tiny wee bit here or there that might help you during the event.”
As with the case with Gallacher, Lyle was encouraging Knox to play shots from around the edges of the green with the leading blade edge on his wedge.
Naturally, Gallacher is disappointed to be missing out on the party in Georgia on this occasion. But, having started to hit shots again yesterday following a hand operation a month ago, watching this week’s event on television will only make him all the more determined to be back in a year’s time. “It is something special, no doubt at,” said the three-time European Tour winner. “You know you are fortunate to be there and you want to play well enough to get back.
“I am certainly desperate to get back. I’m having to watch golf at the moment and I like that every now and again. It gets the juices flowing and gives you something to drive for.”
As for who he expects to see having the Green Jacket slipped over their shoulders on Sunday night, Gallacher believes experience around this course can be the most important club in the bag.
“I think Augusta National it’s what you’d call a course-and-distance venue,” he commented. “That’s why you’ll probably see the likes of Sandy Lyle or Bernhard Langer up there in the first couple of rounds.
“I also think it’s why the winner is likely to be a past champion like Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and, of course, Jordan Spieth.
“I definitely think Rory McIlroy will win this event one day, but he’s been mis-firing a bit this season.
“That said, it might be good for him going into this one with people writing him off while I wouldn’t discount Dustin Johnson, either.”
McIlroy raised the biggest cheer on the first official practice day at Augusta National – with a hole-in-one at the 16th.
The ace, courtesy of a 7-iron from 170 yards, clinched a 3&2 win for the Northern Irishman in a match for “dinner” with tall Englishman Chris Wood.
“The roar was large considering it was a practice round,” said McIlroy, afterwards, when he also described his game as being in “good shape” for a second crack at completing the career Grand Slam.
That attempt will be made in an event featuring just 89 players – the fewest since 2002 – after Fred Couples, the 1992 winner, joined Olazabal, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in being forced to miss out due to injuries.
Couples, 56, cited “acute back problems” for his absence.