Stephen Gallacher can be a master of surprise

Stephen Gallacher with his son and daughter on the ninth green during the Par-3 competition (Getty)
Stephen Gallacher with his son and daughter on the ninth green during the Par-3 competition (Getty)
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Stephen Gallacher was setting out today on his Masters debut having been tipped to be a “surprise” package at Augusta National.

The Lothians star was due to tee off at 4.57pm BST along with Darren Clarke and Nick Watney in the season’s opening major with praise ringing in his ears from American Dave Stockton.

He’s the man Gallacher flew out to California to see last year on the recommendation of Phil Mickelson. The Open champion had seen short-game guru Stockton, pictured, who captained the US against Bernard Gallacher’s European side at Kiawah Island in the 1991 Ryder Cup, transform his putting.

And, after playing in the same group as Stephen at the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill last August, he believed the Scot could reap rewards from receiving the same advice.

“I think Stephen is going to surprise people,” said Stockton after a session with the Bathgate man.

“He didn’t play well in the EurAsia Cup – he was out of sorts and kept driving it in the rough. But now he says his driving is back and if his driving is back that’s great news because his putting is brilliant. I think he’s in a really good place.”

Gallacher putted the lights out on his way to becoming the first player in the event’s 25-year history to win the Dubai Desert Classic back-to-back earlier this year.

That catapulted him into the world’s top 50 and he’s since cemented his position with a top-six finish in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

“I started working with him in September and Stephen came back to see me in January,” added Stockton.

“He was putting conventionally but when he beat Rory [McIlroy] in the desert he was putting cross-handed so he just took what I told him and moved it around.

“Now he has a third grip – I don’t know what you call it – and I’m good with that. Just let him go with it because it works. You can’t win here without putting well.”

Stockton also works with McIlroy and believes the floodgates could be set to open for the two-times major winner if he claims victory on Sunday.

“Rory is one win away from winning a whole bunch,” he predicted. “When he’s on, he’s in a good place. He looks really good. He’s ready to go. He’s won his two majors by big margins – it’s just a matter of things going his way.”

Referring to McIlroy letting a four-shot lead slip in the final round, Stockton added: “He learned a lot from his debacle in 2011. He came right back and he certainly has the game for this golf course. The longer hitters have to be loving the rain that fell on Monday and he certainly qualifies as one of those.

“You either have to have the long game or the short game here and with the rain it has tilted to those with the long game a little bit. It’s going to be a longer course for the average hitter.”