Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher made his long-awaited winning breakthrough on The European Tour when he birdied the first extra-hole of a sudden-death play-off to defeat Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and win the dunhill links championship at St Andrews.
Thirty-five years after his uncle, Bernard Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup Captain, won his first professional title, Stephen followed suit with a sensational display at the Home of Golf. A final round of five under par 67 set the clubhouse target of 19 under par 269 that only McDowell could match with a closing 68.
That took the contest into extra holes and, much to the delight of the home crowds, the Scot played a stunning approach to three feet. With Gallacher virtually assured of a birdie three, McDowell was forced into playing a cute pitch but it plunged into the Swilken Burn guarding the front of the green and his title challenge was over.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Gallacher. “To win my first title here at St Andrews is fantastic.”
Victory earned Gallacher €645,162 (£445,037) and moved him up to 12th in the Volvo Order of Merit with earnings of €1,105,817.
Billed as a celebration of links golf over three of the finest courses in Scotland – the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – the final round of the dunhill links championship became a showcase for the Europe’s finest young talent with the top of the leaderboard packed with the new generation of golfing stars.
A shot shy of the play-off were the English Ryder Cup duo Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, who closed with rounds of 71 and 69 respectively, while two more of England’s Ryder Cup heroes, David Howell and Lee Westwood, the defending champion, were a further two strokes adrift on 16 under par after final rounds of 71 and 67.
After reaching the turn in 33 and 34, Gallacher and McDowell were locked together in a thrilling battle for supremacy, matching each other shot to shot. When the Scot birdied the tenth, McDowell levelled the scores with a birdie on the very next hole and, after both birdied the 12th, Gallacher again edged ahead with a birdie on the 13th, his third in four holes. McDowell responded again with a birdie on the 14th. When Gallacher failed to make par on the 17th, arguably the most famous hole in golf, it looked as if McDowell might just take advantage but he to failed to make par and the contest moved into the play-off.
“When Stephen stiffed it in the play-off, it forced me into trying to get too cute with it,” said McDowell. “Normally I would have just flown it over the pin. I had 90 yards, tried to put a 90 yard swing on it and just came in a little steep, tried to dig it out of the divot and it went in the water. But Stevie hit a great shot in. He played great golf today, fair play to him and it is a great victory.
“I have been real happy with the week, played great golf. I holed a great putt on 18 to get into the play-off. I’m disappointed not to win but we all have our turn and it is great to see a great guy like Stevie win it here at home in Scotland. For his first victory, this is the place to do it.”
Donald in particular was unlucky not to join them in the play-off having held a two stroke lead at the start of the final round. A bogey on the infamous Road Hole, the 17th, left him needing a birdie on the final hole to match Gallacher’s target but his birdie putt pulled up agonisingly short.
“I played okay today, not great,” said Donald, who was chasing his third title in seven events in Europe. “The first few holes I had a lot of chances for birdies and just couldn’t quite get the putts in and a couple of bogeys coming in. But I stuck in there hard and gave it a go. But overall it has been a fun week. I would have loved to have won, you don’t like to lose a lead but it has been fun playing with my amateur partners.”
Poulter also missed out by just the one shot despite struggling with a wrist injury since Friday.
“One shot shy on this golf course,” lamented Poulter. “I made a good two putt on 11 from 150 feet which was nice but hit a bad tee shot off two and made a sackful of birdies so just to be one short is frustrating. But it also good after nine days off to play this well and I love playing links golf. I didn’t hole my fair share of putts today, simple as that. I hit some good golf shots.”
The team competition was won by Fred Couples, who finished equal seventh in the individual event, and New Zealand businessman Craig Heatley, who combined for a 37 under par total.
Couples said: “I have won a team event at the AT&T tournament and I felt the same way this time at the end. I had a two and a half foot putt at the last and I knew my partner was saying a prayer. I was trying so hard to make it because I didn’t want to let him down. In the end we won by two shots but at the time I thought I needed to make it.”
Heatley, the founder of Sky television in New Zealand, added: “This is a dream come true for me, having someone like Fred Couples as your partner and ending up by winning it.”