Stephen Gallacher braced for 'tough' test in strong field for Abu Dhabi Challenge
The Abu Dhabi Challenge, which starts at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Thursday, includes no less than 19 former DP World Tour winners with a combined 46 top-tier title triumphs between them.
In addition to four-time winner Gallacher, they include seven-time champion Alvaro Quiros, five-time winner David Howell and Brandon Stone, whose three successes include the 2019 Scottish Open at Gullane.
The field also contains Italian duo Matteo Manassero and Renato Paratore, winners of the BMW PGA Championship and Betfred British Masters respectively, as well as 2018 Dunhill Links champion Lucas Bjerregaard and two-time Portugal Masters winner Tom Lewis.
“I was looking at it the other day and I was surprised myself about the standard of the field,” admitted Gallacher, who, like the other well-known names, is playing in the UAE after losing his card on the main tour.
David Drysdale, another Scot in the line up, is in the same boat and Gallacher is well aware that reputations count for little on the highly-competitive second-tier circuit, which, for its first visit to Abu Dhabi, is staging a double-header with another event taking place at Saadiyat Links next week.
“It’s a really good tournament and it’s got a brilliant field for it as well, which is great,” added Gallacher, who, in addition to Drysdale, is being joined in flying the Saltire in the first leg by Euan Walker, Liam Johnston, Craig Howie, Michael Stewart, Ryan Lumsden and Louis Gaughan.
“It’s tough to do well out here,” added two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion Gallacher of the task facing him this week. “It’s not as though you are coming out and thinking it’s going to be a breeze.
“It’s a proper golf event with good players who are on the ascendancy and want to be on the DP World Tour. They don’t want to be out here too long. They want to be on and off and I think that’s the key to the Challenge Tour. It’s the way to get on tour as it gives you a full season.”
This week’s event is being played on the course that staged the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the main tour for a lengthy period of time before it moved to Yas Links last year. Gallacher finished in the top ten in 2014 before becoming the only player to land back-to-back triumphs in the Dubai Desert Classic a fortnight later.
“It’s a totally different atmosphere,” he said of being back on Challenge Tour duty. “But it’s quite good it’s here as I did a bit of TV work for the first time at the Hero Cup, which was around here, at the start of the year. I walked the course during that and saw then how different it was without any stands and it is totally different visually after playing it so long in the HSBC event.
“To be playing here a bit later in the year, the heat is more intense, but it’s a great event and it’s a fantastic golf course, one that I’ve really enjoyed playing over the years, so it is nice to come back.
“I am going to get a few invites for the main tour and I’m going to supplement that with a few Challenge Tour events as well. The Challenge Tour is an important part of the DP World Tour and you can see how strong it is with the fields for the next two weeks.”
Gallacher isn’t the only Bathgate man in the field as Gaughan, who secured his spot in the event by winning the Emirates PGA Championship last week, is also a product of the West Lothian club.
The 29-year-old, a former Scottish Par 3 champion, is now based at Dubai Hills and, having already enjoyed a practice round with Gallacher and Bjerregaard, is aiming to make the most of an “amazing” experience.
“It's the first time I'd have played in such a big event,” said Gaughan. “I've got no expectations. I'd normally be at work, teaching golf, so to be out playing is a nice change.
“I’m just delighted to get the opportunity to play and to see how my game matches up. I feel like my golf is pretty good, but until you play against these guys that are playing on tour each week, it's hard to see where you're at. It’ll be good to get an idea of the level and to just enjoy the experience of playing in a big event.”