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Dunhill Links: Stephen Gallacher’s great skills to the fore in Old Course cross winds

Stephen Gallacher showed all his skills on a tough day at St Andrews.

Even long-time golf observers struggle with the term “ball-striker”. It’s one of the game’s premier compliments but it seems essentially meaningless – everyone strikes the ball, after all.

But you got an idea of what it means on a proper blowy day at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. With 20-25 mph winds gusting across all the three links in play, you needed to be a proper ball-striker to thrive.

Stephen Gallacher has always been known as one of the Tour’s premier ball-strikers – you used to see his peers watching and admiring him hit balls on the range. With a mighty cross wind in play across the Old Course, all those skills were to the fore in his four-under 68.

‘Every hole it’s straight across’

“Probably the toughest wind for the golf course, straight across it,” said the Dunhill winner from 2004. “The only hole it helps is 18, once you’re past the second, every hole it’s straight across. That’s so tough.

“I just hit some lovely shots and hit it really close on the front nine – I could’ve been four or five-under on my front nine but I was just happy to turn in three-under.

“It’s right to left all the way out so you try to cut the ball into it. Then you turn the other way and you have to draw it in.

“If you just have one shape, then your ball is out of control today. I was delighted with the way I struck it.”

‘I didn’t want to play at all’

Gallacher won the Dunhill in 2004.

A top 25 at Wentworth has bolstered Stevie’s later season after some struggles this season – his India Open win in 2019 made him exempt for 2022 anyway.

“I didn’t enjoy 2020 and the start of the year. “With no crowds and eating in your hotel room with the restrictions…to be honest, I didn’t want to play at all.

“At Wentworth, you could go back out with your mates and be a bit more social. For the young guys, the last year or so has been all they’ve known but for someone who has been on the tour for 25 years it’s different.

“The minute we got back to some normality the adrenaline has started to flow again. Wentworth was massive. This is a massive event. It’s good to get back into it. I’m enjoying it again.”

Untimely loss of long-time sponsor

He’s close to his 600th tour event – looks like it could be Dubai, a favourite haunt, this or next year.

“Hopefully there’s few more events for me, I’d love to get 700. Sam (Torrance) was 702. (Miguel Angel) Jimenez passed that.”

But it was also a sad day for Gallacher, as playing meant he couldn’t attend the funeral of his long-time sponsor Alan Steel, who died from Covid-19.

“He was my sponsor for 11 years,” said Gallacher. “My daughter worked for him for a while. He didn’t play golf. He loved his music and his red wine. I enjoyed a few of those with him.

“I’m happy I had a good score for him today.”

Ferguson grinds out a 73 to stay in contention

Still top Scot is Ewen Ferguson, who battled through the winds at Carnoustie but admitted it was an all-day struggle.

“It’s just such a hard course, you need to focus so hard,” he said after a one-over 73 left him at six-under, sharing 8th place. “You make a good putt or a good two-putt and the next tee you’re on the tee thinking, ‘right, another hard hole’.

“You hit in a bunker and you’re done. You just make a double or whatever. I had to back off a couple of times at 18 with the gusts of wind and eventually just made a mess of it, so that was obviously disappointing for a finish.

He kept moving forward thanks to a downwind eagle on the 14th.

“I three putted the 12th for par and I was raging,” he admitted.  “Got on the 14th and hit the green in two and said to myself ‘this putt is not going to be short’.

“But those last few holes on this golf course are just brutal. I was just grinding, grinding as much as I could.”

Richie Ramsay is also well placed on five-under after a par round at the Old Course, and Calum Hill had an excellent 69 at Kingsbarns to get to two-under.

But it was not a happy day for Robert MacIntyre at the southerly links, a triple bogey 8 at the 12th sliding him to a 76 and two-over after two rounds.