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Chipping In - Wood's stock falling; McIlory's rising

By: Nick Bonfield | Mon 03 Feb 2014

There might just be a Scot inviting himself to the party come October in Gleneagles. This week saw Stephen Gallacher defend in Dubai, meanwhile huge crowds enjoyed the atmosphere at the Phoenix Open....

By Nick Bonfield

European Tour

Dubai affinity for Gallacher

Stephen Gallacher made history this weekend by becoming the first ever player to defend the Dubai Desert Classic title, and joined Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as the only players to have won the event multiple times. The Emirates Golf Club is clearly his favourite venue in the world, as two of his three European Tour victories have come at the Majlis Course. The Sccotsman averages a win every 144 events, but the gap between his two Dubai Desert triumphs was just 27. There were a lot of positives for Gallacher to take - notably playing a ten-hole stretch in 10-under-par for a European Tour record on Saturday - but perhaps the most significant is the fact he was able to play his best golf in the company of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, whom he was paired with during the first two rounds. He's always been one of the best ball-strikes on the European Tour, so if he can harness the momentum gained from this week, his winning ratio will be expedited going forward. 

Woods' stock falling; McIlroy's rising

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have enjoyed contrasting starts to the season.The former has been crippled by an inability to keep the ball on the fairway - the main factor facilitating his third-round 79 at the Farmers Insurance Open - and while the latter hasn't managed to win yet in 2014, he's come close in two events. Yes, the McIlroy of 2012 would probably have strolled to victory in Dubai, but it's encouraging to see him competing week in, week out. Ominously for his peers, he's driving the golf ball as well as he has done for some 18 months. When he's on form off the tee - memories of a driving masterclass at the 2012 PGA Championship come to mind - the rest of his game tends to follow suit. As such, I think McIlroy is in with a great chance of winning the WGC-Accenture Matchplay, which takes place later this month. By contrast, Woods is having a torrid time off the tee with his driver. It amazes me how the best player in the world and arguably the best coach in the world, Sean Foley, just can't come up with a driving accuracy formula, and haven't been able to for some time - a concerning state of affairs.

Stat watch

Some of the statistics that caught my eye following the Dubai Desert Classic:
Steven Gallacher ranked 8th in Putts Per Green in Reguation - through his career, putting has been the Scotsman's achilees heel. Indeed, in 2013, he ranked 153rd in the same category, and you have to go back to 2004 for the last time he breached the top 100 (83rd). His driving and greens hit statistics are always very solid, so if he's turned a corner with the flat-stick, he could be very dangerous going forward.
McIlroy's driving in excellent shape - Okay, so the statistics don't read particularly well over the weekend, but McIlroy hit 12/14 fairways in round one, admitted he was feeling very confident with the driver and ranked 1st in driving distance over the course of the week.

Casey on the comeback

 Paul Casey is fit, healthy and determined to make up for lost time, and his stats make for very encouraging reading. Last week, he was 4th in Driving Accuracy, 6th in Driving Distance, 24th in Greens in Regulation and 12th in Putts Per Round. If he keeps up those figures, his next win will be just around the corner.

PGA Tour

Stadler: success at lastCraig Stadler

Kevin Stadler - son of former major champion Craig - registered his first PGA Tour victory at the 239th time of asking in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, following Bubba Watson's agonising missed five-foot par putt at the 72nd hole. The Stadlers are the ninth father/son duo to win on the PGA Tour, and this April will mark the first time a father and son have competed in the same Masters Tournament. Craig, who won at Augusta in 1983, said: "It's going to be great for me because this really is my last one. I kept saying when he gets in, that'll be my last one. It's awesome, I'm so proud of him." What a great moment for the Stadler family.


Westwood struggles

Sadly, it seems as if Lee Westwood is still struggling with the thing that's been a perennial souce of frustration over the past few years: his putting. On the front nine during his second round, he missed from two feet, three times from three feet, twice from seven feet and once from 11 feet. That round, his Strokes Gained: Putting figure was a stagering -5.799. In other words, he lost almost six strokes to the field on the greens. With Westwood now the wrong side of 40 and his putting still so poor, it looks as if he'll be competing with Colin Montgomerie for the dreaded 'best player never to have won a major' accolade.

Next week

One of the world's most beautiful, revered and inimitable golf courses will appear on our screens next week as a host of the world's best player head to Pebble Beach for the AT&T National Pro-Am. Seven of the world's top 21 players - including Phil Mickelson, who will make his 20th consecutive appearance at Pebble - and 11 major champions will be in action, along with the likes of Hunter Mahan and Nick Watney. By contrast, the field for the European Tour's Joburg Open includes just one player inside the world's top 50 and one former major champion, both the same person: Charl Schwartzel. More and more tournaments are being staged in South Africa, but the brutal truth is these events just aren't a spectacle at all. After such a good desert swing, it's going to be difficult watching the European circuit play second fiddle to the PGA Tour until the BMW PGA Championship in May.   

Image Credit - Nike Golf Facebook / PGA Tour Facebook

Related Articles

Gallacher makes history in Dubai

Wood's eclipsed as McIlroy runs riot

Kevin Stadler claims maiden victory on the PGA Tour

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Tags: tiger woods rory mcilroy phil mickelson PGA Tour lee westwood european tour

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