Gallacher proving he has game to be giant slayer

By Rex HoggardFebruary 2, 2014, 5:59 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – It happens every two years like clockwork, a little-known European flies under the American radar and headlong into the role of giant slayer.

In 2012 at Medinah, Nicolas Colsaert – the Belgian Bomber, the Muscles from Brussels – singlehandedly whipped the American power two-ball of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in Friday’s four-ball action and in 2010 in Wales it was Martin Kaymer, who compiled a 2-1-1 record as a rookie.

Although there is still plenty of time before the transatlantic two dozen square off later this year in Scotland, a prime Cinderella candidate emerged on Sunday at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Stephen Gallacher is as nondescript as they come. Red hair, fair skin, think Opie Taylor with a deep Scottish brogue. It wasn’t so much his victory or the fact that he became the first player to win back-to-back Dubai titles that impressed so much as it was the way he handled himself under the brightest of glares.

When Gallacher set out on Tuesday paired with Tiger Woods, he could have been forgiven if he got caught up spectating alongside the world No. 1. His only experience with Woods before the 18-hole Champions Challenge was at the 1995 Walker Cup as an amateur, when he lost a four-ball match to the American.

But Gallacher beat Woods head-to-head on Tuesday, 69 to 71, and again on Thursday when they were grouped together, 66 to 68, and on Friday, 71 to 73. Imagine what that could do for the man’s confidence come September if he finds himself across the first tee from Woods at Gleneagles?

Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, videos and photos

He would go on to beat everyone on Sunday in Dubai, thanks in large part to a closing nine of 9-under 28 on Saturday, including world No. 6 Rory McIlroy and American phenom Brooks Koepka.

That he won after a not-so-great start to his final round is a testament to how far the 40-year-old has come in just the last 12 months. Before last year’s victory in Dubai he had exactly one “W” in 16 seasons on the European Tour.

“You know, it's hard to win. I've put myself in positions to win. The crucial one was last year and to get the second win after so long,” said Gallacher, who closed with an even-par 72 on Sunday for a 16 under total.

In a convoluted way, now comes the hard part.

He’s dreamt of playing for Europe in a Ryder Cup his entire life and the perfect convergence of his solid play and the matches return to Scotland this year could be a power motivator or distraction, depending on how one rationalizes pressure.

But Gallacher’s fixation goes well beyond proximity and the love of an event.

As he darted through crowds and rain drops late Sunday at the Emirates Golf Club, he paused at the mention of his uncle, European great Bernhard Gallacher. Uncle Bernhard played on eight European Ryder Cup teams and captained the Continent’s squad on three occasions, including in 1993.

It just so happens ’93 was the last time the American side won the matches on European soil and the last time the U.S. team was captained by Tom Watson, who will lead this year’s team.

Gallacher’s expressive face twisted into a smirk at the irony and recalls meeting Watson during the ’93 matches and what that loss meant to his uncle.

“I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself, but certainly with my uncle playing in it eight times, captained it three and vice captained it two, so it's pretty much all I grew up watching,” he admits.

“And then, when it's 37 miles from the house; in my generation, it's never going to be in Scotland again, so it's always been a long‑term goal of mine to play in a Ryder Cup. It just so happens that the best spell I'm having is during the one that's in Scotland.”

Any sports psychologist will trip over their couch to remind an athlete in a position like Gallacher’s that you can want something too much. He has the advantage of being exempt into the top events this year, including the year’s first two World Golf Championships and the Masters, which will help.

But it won’t temper the desire, and for Gallacher maybe that’s a good thing. After a lifetime of middle-of-the-pack performances he has found his stride and he knows at 28th on the European Ryder Cup points list that solid play, not sentimentality, is the only way to earn a spot this fall at Gleneagles.

“That’s my long‑term goal but the short term is to try to get into all these big events, but then you need to play well in them, as well, to amass the points to give (European captain Paul McGinley) a headache, hopefully,” he smiled.

Officials in Dubai celebrated the event’s 25th anniversary with a champion’s week, wooing all 20 living winners back to the Emirates to mark the occasion, and a true champion emerged with all the markings of a September giant slayer.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”