Stephen Gallacher needed to produce something special to track down an ominously charging Richard Sterne. Holding a stunning eagle on the 16th did trick for the Scotsman, who, in the end, won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with a healthy margin of three shots at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday.
A good three shots ahead of his playing partner from South Africa going into the final round, Gallacher closed with a 71 to go 22-under for the tournament, equaling the tournament’s lowest 72-hole score recorded by Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn when he beat Tiger Woods in 2001.
It was Scotsman’s first win on the European Tour since the 2004 Alfred Dunhill Links, a gap of eight years and 116 days.
“I’m obviously delighted. It’s taken a long time, but it’s sweeter now. I’m maturing with age hopefully,” he said after receiving the winner’s trophy from Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the presence of Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi.
Gallacher’s victory margin, however, hardly reflects on the drama that unfolded on the final day. Back-to-back bogeys on the opening two holes by the Scotsman threw open the race, allowing Sterne to draw level when he chipped to two feet on the second for a birdie.
The lead kept changing hands as the round wore on, but stars, it seemed, were perfectly aligned for Gallacher who virtually settled the issue when he eagled the 16th, holing a sand wedge from 115 yards.
It was his fifth eagle of the week – the first came when he sank a seven iron at the sixth on day one – and when Sterne three-putted again the gap was suddenly four. And it was all over for Sterne.
“I’ve holed four shots this week but then again you have to do that these days to win,” Gallacher said. “The scoring is so low and the players are so good that you need that little bit of magic,” said Gallacher whose caddie Damie Moore celebrated his 42nd birthday on Sunday.
With the win, Gallacher moves into the top 60 of the world rankings and in a strong position to qualify for the World Golf Championships for the first time.
Felipe Aguilar of Chile (69) and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark (71) finished five shots back in a tie for third. Eighth-ranked Lee Westwood (68) and Marcus Fraser (67) of Australia were a further shot back in fifth.
With Gallacher and Sterne dropping shots early on, several players attempted to make a run – none more so than Westwood.
Nine shots out at the start of play, the Englishman had three birdies on the front nine including a chip-in on the 7th. He had two more to start the back nine but then hit a poor chip on the 12th for bogey. Westwood started rolling again with two more birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 and narrowly missed a third on the 16th when his approach rolled to within two feet but he missed the putt.
Westwood birdied the 17th to draw within three shots of Gallacher but bogeyed the last after his second shot hit the green and rolled back in the water.
“Overall, I played lovely and made a lot of birdies. There’s not really a weakness in the game at the moment, so, yeah, looking forward to the season ahead,” said Westwood.