Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher fired a final-round 72 to clinch the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday as he overcame a nightmare start to become the first player to retain the trophy.
Gallacher, whose Dubai win 12 months ago was his first title in nearly a decade, gave up four bogeys on the front nine holes, but clawed back four shots after the turn in a gritty display to end on 272.
“My emotions are gone, I’m a nervous wreck,” the world No. 67 told reporters. “I never really played the front nine that well all week. No one was racing ahead, that was the key, if someone had come out of the traps maybe it would have been different.”
His closest challenger was Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo (66), who sunk a 60-foot eagle putt on the 18th for 273, while France’s Romain Wattel (66) and Brooks Koepka (70) of the US were tied on 274.
Gallacher, 39, began the day two shots clear of world No. 6 Rory McIlroy and most of the 8,500 crowd must have anticipated a classic duel between the wily veteran and golf’s great young hope.
However, both players faltered on an overcast Majlis course, although that made for a thrilling finale as four different players — Gallacher, McIlroy, Koepka and Grillo — claimed the outright lead at some stage, while England’s Robert Rock and Finland’s Mikko Ilonen also shared top spot.
Gallacher hit his first two drives into the rough to begin with successive bogeys and gift playing partner McIlroy the lead.
Yet the Northern Irishman failed to capitalize. He slugged his tee shot at the par-three seventh into the water for a bogey and dropped three further shots between holes 10 and 13, dooming his hopes of ending a 14-month title drought on the European Tour as he slipped to a share of ninth.
“The golf course played a lot differently today,” McIlroy said. “The greens were firmer. The rare times I did get the ball close I didn’t make any putts. It was one of those days.”
Gallacher, by contrast, was a man transformed after the turn, where a day earlier he had equaled a European Tour record with nine-under on the back nine.
He did not quite reach the same heights on Sunday, but a chip from the rough on the 17th provided a one-foot birdie chance he duly converted to reclaim the outright lead, making par on the 18th with a nerveless three-foot putt to seal the title.