Dubai specialist Stephen Gallacher has the Omega Desert Classic leader in his sights after underlining why he describes the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club as his “home from home”.
The two-time winner carded a four-under-par 68 on the opening day of the event’s 30th staging to sit just three shots off the pace, held by Matt Fitzpatrick after the Englishman broke a logjam for top spot late in the day.
It was the 23rd time that Gallacher had shot in the 60s on this course and the 46th occasion that he’d broken par. He’s now a combined 118-under-par for 63 rounds, having chalked up seven top-10 finishes in 18 appearances.
“I wish I knew,” replied the 44-year-old to being asked what his secret to success is at this particular venue. “I think every time I come back here I’ve got great memories. I play the course when I’m out here on holiday and it’s a home from home, really.
“I know the course really well. I’ve played it in every wind. I’ve played it in every scenario. When you have a catalogue of good shots, I think you have a wee spring in your step.”
Gallacher’s latest eye-catching effort, which contained six birdies, came in the company of Thomas Bjorn, last year’s winning Ryder Cup captain, and another of the European Tour’s most experienced campaigners, Miguel Angel Jimenez.
“It’s not often these days that I’m the youngest in the group,” quipped Gallacher. “They are good lads and it was a good laugh. It was a brilliant three-ball – I couldn’t have asked for any better.”
After ending last season with a run of making nine successive cuts, the three-time European Tour winner made an early exit in his first outing in 2019 in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. This, though, was more like it from Gallacher. “
“I’ll take four-under,” he said. “I played good today. I drove the ball a bit better. I struggled last week and in practice here, but I hit it lovely today.”
His score was helped by making birdies at three of the par-5s. “That’s the key round here – you have to murder the par-5s every day,” he added. “If you can get a couple of eagles and play them in double figures, it makes a big difference to your score.”
On a day when Fitzpatrick transformed his score with a burst of five birdies in the last six holes, Richie Ramsay was next best among six Scots with a 69.
That was sparked by birdies at his opening three holes, with the Aberdonian getting to four-under before dropping his only shot of the round at the par-4 14th.
“The fast start was nice,” he admitted afterwards. “I played very solid and I have been working hard with Graham Walker this week on getting up and down around the green after losing six strokes to the field in that category in Abu Dhabi.”
Maintaining the level of golf that saw him finish just outside the top 10 in that Rolex Series event, Scott Jamieson made four birdies as he signed for a 70.
“I was a little bit disappointed being three-under at the turn and it was also disappointing to bogey the last after fighting well on the back nine,” he said. “But it was a solid day and it’s good to be under par again.”
Playing in one of the final groups, Marc Warren also opened with a two-under effort. “Everything was all over the place at the start, but I played really well after that,” he said.
Colin Montgomerie, the 1996 winner, shot a 71, two better than David Drysdale, who was happy to get round unscathed after his preparation was hit by back trouble.
“I wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for (physio) Stuart Barton flying out here and sorting my back. He’s a miracle worker!” said Drysdale.