Gallacher defends his Dubai Desert Classic championship
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic celebrated its 25th anniversary with Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher making history en route to victory. In successfully defending his title, Gallacher also upstaged Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy along the way.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from the final round at Emirates Golf Club:
1. A DESERT FIRST: Stephen Gallacher turned up in Dubai as defending champion but was reduced to something of a cameo role in the first two rounds, playing alongside headline acts Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Gallacher may have received less coverage all week, but he had the last laugh.
Gallacher became the first man in the 25-year history of the Dubai Desert Classic to successfully defend his title, sealing his victory with a 3-foot par putt on the final hole.
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With a 9-under 63 on Saturday, Gallacher took a two-shot lead into the final round, but he looked to have thrown the title away over the first eight holes Sunday. Bogeys at the first two holes along with another two, at Nos. 6 and 8, caused him to make the turn at 4-over 39 and fall two shots off the pace.
He somehow got his game together on the back nine, though.
The 1995 Walker Cup player made birdies at the 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th holes to help him to a level-par 72. He finished at 16-under 272, one shot ahead of Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, who drained a long eagle putt on the 18th to grab a share of the lead late.
“It took everything I had to win today, especially after the start I had when I bogeyed the first two holes,” said Gallacher, 39, of Scotland.
“I then just tried to build on yesterday’s performance and stay patient, basically. The good thing is, I was fortunate that no one was running away with the tournament and being only a couple back, and with three par 5s still to play.
“The turning point came at 11 when I holed a nice putt for birdie, and then to draw level for the lead with seven holes to play, I thought I still had a strong chance.”
The victory, his third on the European Tour, should lift Gallacher into the top 40 of the Official World Golf Ranking. At that position, he qualifies for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and all four majors.
American Brooks Koepka (70) and France's Romain Wattel (66) tied for third at 14-under 274.
2. RORY FALTERS LATE: Rory McIlroy summed it up best following his final-round 2-over 74.
“I think anything that sort of could go wrong did,” said McIlroy, who made the turn tied for the lead before three bogeys in his final nine holes helped drop him back into a share of ninth at 12 under.
The main culprit: his tee shots.
McIlroy hit just six fairways on Sunday after missing just two in Thursday's opening round. His 114 putts, including 30 in the final round, didn't help, either.
“I hit a couple of loose drives, but I didn't really get away with them," said McIlroy, who carded just two final-round birdies in his attempt to win for the first time in 2014.
Yet, McIlroy still notched his sixth top 10 in his last seven starts. He plans to play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play later this month.
3. TIGER'S TRAVAIL: By the time Tiger Woods seemed to figure things out Sunday at Emirates Golf Club, it was too late.
Woods closed his final round with three straight birdies to card a 1-under 71. But with Woods having played the first 69 holes of the tournament in just 3 under, the late flurry of birdies could only get the World No. 1 to 6 under, where he finished in a share of 41st.
"Unfortunately I turned it around too late," said Woods, who totaled four birdies, all on the back nine, and three bogeys in his final round.
Of course, Woods had already played his way out of the tournament thanks to a 73-70 performance the past two days. He entered Sunday 11 shots off the lead before rattling off seven straight pars to begin his round. He didn't make his first birdie until the 10th hole.
“I piped it all day," Woods said. "My iron game was not as sharp as I’d like, and I didn’t make anything (with the putter). I had seven lip-outs today. That’s quite a few.”
Woods now has two tournaments under his belt in 2014, and both have resulted in disappointing finishes. He missed the 54-hole cut after a third-round 79 last week at the Farmers Insurance Open, a tournament he's won seven times, as he struggled most notably off the tee. Then this week in Dubai, a tournament he won in 2009, his driving improved each round only to have his short game falter – he missed putt after putt and hit a number of poor chips and bunker shots.
"The long game was certainly frustrating last week and we got that figured out," Woods said. "I hit so many good putts and just kept lipping everything out. My speed was just a fraction off and the grain would snag it, or it would blow right through.”
After needing 25 putts to get through the first round, Woods totaled 31, 29 and 31 putts in the final three rounds, respectively.
The good news is Woods will have almost a month to iron things out before his next competitive round.
Although Woods hasn't made it official, he is expected to skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play later this month. That would mean that he will likely return to action at the Honda Classic, although Woods has yet to commit to the event, which runs Feb. 27-March 2 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
4. SEVE'S SPIRIT LIVES ON: Seve Ballesteros, who died in 2011, was the only former winner missing from an 18-hole past-champions tournament before the event. However, tournament organizers allowed Seve's son Javier to play in his place.
He was even paired with Seve’s old Ryder Cup partner, Jose Maria Olazabal.
Like father like son, Javier opened with a hooked tee shot, and had to lay up 50 yards short of the green. Like Seve, though, he made a pitch-and-putt par.
“He brought back a lot of memories of Seve,” Olazabal said. “I’ve known him since he was four or five but this was the first time I had played with him.”
Javier finished with a 74 in the event.
“I just tried to make my family proud,’ he said. “Do I play like him? Kind of, but not as good as him.”
Javier, who is a full time law student in Madrid, missed the cut in the tournament proper, returning rounds of 74 and 71. But at least the spirit of Seve was alive and well for the tournament's 25th anniversary.
5. 25 AND OUT FOR LANE: Barry Lane missed the cut in Dubai after scores of 79 and 70, but he left satisfied after reaching a personal milestone: He’s the only man to have played in all 25 Dubai Desert Classics.
The Englishman finished sixth in the inaugural 1989 tournament when it was called the Karl Litten Desert Classic. He ended seven shots behind winner Mark James, who defeated Australia’s Peter O’Malley in a playoff.
Lane came closest to winning in 1993, when he got into contention down the stretch and finished third.
The 51-year-old Englishman has witnessed the massive changes to the area since 1989.
“It’s changed beyond recognition,” said Lane, who now plays on the European Seniors Tour. “Being just an oasis of a golf course in the middle of the desert to what it is now.
“The skyline is unbelievable out on the course, when you stand on the eighth tee and you see all the buildings it is quite amazing. You look at pictures here in 1989 and there is nothing at all.”
Golfweek's Brentley Romine contributed to this report.