A strong display of driving over the last three days helped Stephen Gallacher secure his first top-10 finish in more than a year as Joost Luiten claimed a sixth European Tour title with victory in the inaugural NBO Oman Open.
On a day when Luiten signed off with a 68 to finish on 16-under-par, winning by two shots from Englishman Chris Wood, Gallacher produced another solid performance on Greg Norman’s testing layout at Al Moul Golf in Muscat.
The 43-year-old had left himself with a mountain to climb in terms of getting in the title race after taking a triple-bogey 8 at the 16th as he opened with a 74 but backed up a splendid second-day 67 with closing efforts of 68 and 70.
He finished joint-ninth on nine-under, picking up a cheque for just over £25,000 as the three-time European Tour winner recorded his best finish since tying for 12th in the Dunhill Links Championship last October and his first top 10 since claiming same position in the Dubai Desert Classic just over 12 months ago.
“Apart from two lost balls of the tee - at the fourth and 16th - on the first day, I drove it so well after and to go 54 holes with just one bogey is pleasing,” he said, having negoiated the second rounds without dropping a shot.
In the last round, Gallacher got off to a flying start with two birdies in the opening three holes before that solitary bogey in three days came at the par-4 fourth, getting that shot back with a birdie at the 16th.
“I never really took my chances and, all in all, ninth was probably the worst I could finish,” added the Ryder Cup player. “But I’m really looking forward to carrying on this sort of form to next week in Qatar.”
In a ding-dong last-day battle, Luiten and Wood were tied for the lead on 13-under at the turn before the Dutchman, having already picked up shots at the 12th and 13th, holed a 25-foot birdie putt at the 16th to get to 16-under-par and Wood then bogeyed the next.
It was Luiten’s first victory since he claimed a second KLM Open triumph on home soil in 2016 and the 32-year-old is hoping it can be a springboard to getting into the mix for the Ryder Cup in France in the autumn.
“It’s been a great week,” said Luiten. “It’s always tough to win out here. All these guys are so good and they’ll keep putting pressure on you, so you’ve got to keep playing good golf. Down the stretch I hit some nice shots and holed some nice putts and it was a nice battle with Woody.
“I need to win another couple I think to get into the Ryder Cup team, but it’s a great start to the year for me, this is what I was hoping for. This is what gets you right in there. I just need to play golf and then we’ll see what happens come September.”
Wood, who played in the last match against the Americans at Hazeltine in 2016, was pleased with his best performance since tying for fourth in the China Open last April. “It’s night and day to how I’ve been,” said the lanky Bristolian. “After a couple of days I’m sure I’ll reflect and see it’s a big step in the right direction this week.”
In his first event since pulling out in Dubai last month with back trouble, David Drysdale closed with a 71 to finish joint-23rd on five-under, three better than Connor Syme as a last-day 73 - his only round above par - left him in a share of 37th spot.
Paul Lawrie slipped to joint-61st on four-over after signing off with a 76 that included a double-bogey 6 at the fourth while Bradley Neil (72) and Marc Warren (73) both ended up on six-over, sharing 63rd position.
In South Africa, Jack Doherty finished in a share of 18th in the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt.
As home player Jaco Ahlers succeeded Paul Lawrie on the event’s roll of honour by claiming a three-shot success, Doherty signed off with 69 for an 11-under-par total.
South African-based Scot Alan McLean, a former winner, finished joint-46th on five-under, Doug McGuigan ended up tied for 60th on three-under and Jack McDonald was 69th on two-over.