When asked if he’d be back at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in 12 months’ time, Stephen Gallacher couldn’t resist a tongue in cheek reply.
“I’ll probably take the week off and start my season later on,” he said, laughing, knowing full well that he’ll be in the line-up for the ‘Major in the Middle East’ for many years to come.
The Lothians star may have been dethroned at the Emirates Golf Club after his two wins in a row there by Rory McIlroy as he consolidated his position as world No 1. But Gallacher’s love affair with the venue is still burning after adding an outright third-place finish to his two wins and a runner-up finish in 2012.
For 16 rounds, he’s now a combined 71-under-par, so while McIlroy may have regained the iconic coffee pot he first won in 2009, Gallacher is entitled to believe he’s not finished yet here.
“Realistically, we were all playing for second place today as Rory is pretty good from the front,” admitted the 40-year-old after signing off with a 70 for a 16-under-par total to finish six behind McIlroy.
“But I’m delighted to have come here again and put myself in contention again as the defending champion – that’s all you can ask for, really.”
Seven behind McIlroy overnight, Gallacher’s hopes of launching a last-day charge were quickly derailed when he dropped a shot at the first.
He got that back at the sixth before moving up a gear on his beloved back nine, where he almost holed-in-one at the 11th before holing a 45-yard chip across the green at the 12th.
Another birdie went down on the card at the long 13th before bouncing back from a bogey at the 14th by making 3 at the 17th.
When Englishman Andy Sullivan dropped a shot at the last, it left Gallacher in third on his own, earning him a cheque for just under £110,000 as well as valuable world ranking points.
“I’m happy with that and today was probably the best I’ve played all week,” admitted the Bathgate man. “I was hitting it so good that it was going through the wind quite a bit and that stopped me from getting it pin high as much as I’d have liked.
“I hit a lovely shot right at the pin at the first but it’s gone miles past and it was the same at the 14th, where I made my only other bogey.
“The chip in from across the green at the 12th was a cracker. I seem to save all those shots for this week. In fact, I almost had a hole-in-one at the 11th, where I hit a wedge that horseshoed.”
Asked about being the defending champion again for the second year running, Gallacher added: “I didn’t really feel under any extra pressure as you’ve already won it – twice in my case here – and all I really wanted to do was to be in contention in the final round.
“But when the world No 1 picks up five birdies in the front nine on Saturday it is pretty much ominous for the rest of us, to be honest.”
Having started the event in 34th, Gallacher could jump into the world’s top 30 when the latest world rankings are published today.
“I wanted to start this year how I’d left off last season,” he said. “I left it on a high and I’ve not changed much from last year at all, just the odd tinkering here and there.
“Last week I was a bit rusty in Qatar but this week it’s been back to business as normal. I played lovely, just didn’t hole as many putts as I’d have liked to.”