Stephen Gallacher’s low key start in pursuit of Ryder Cup place
Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin one shot off Francesco Molinari’s lead at Italian Open
Stephen Gallacher five off the early pace at the Italian Open. Photgraph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Stephen Gallacher is the only player who controls his Ryder Cup destiny, but it was Francesco Molinari who did most to boost his chances of making the European team in the Italian Open.
On the course where he started playing golf aged eight, Molinari carded a flawless six-under-par 66 at Circolo Golf Torino to share the lead with Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
And that meant Gallacher, who needs to finish in the top two to overtake Graeme McDowell and claim the final automatic qualifying place, found himself six shots off the pace following an erratic opening 72.
European captain Paul McGinley admitted Molinari is “very much in my mind” for one of the three wild cards he will announce on Tuesday, with the man himself thinking he needs to win on Sunday to make a third consecutive cup appearance at Gleneagles next month.
“I had a chat with Paul when he got here and I think the good thing is that he knows what I can bring to the team because he has seen me as vice-captain on the last two teams,” said Molinari, whose halved match with Tiger Woods at Medinah in 2012 ensured Europe won outright for the seventh time in the last nine contests.
“But it’s up to me to prove that I really want it and am playing well enough. I think anything less than a win would not be enough so I have to aim for that.” Gallacher headed straight to the range after a round featuring four birdies and four bogeys, the 39-year-old Scot squandering a good start after almost holing his approach to his second hole of the day.
“I’m a bit disappointed because I threw away a couple of shots midway through my round, but it’s okay for the first day and I am only one good score away from the top of the leaderboard,” said Gallacher, who lives just 35 miles from Gleneagles.
“I know I have to finish first or second, that’s not going to change, so I’m not putting any pressure on myself. Once you get out on the course you just try to birdie every hole. That’s the easy part. It’s when you finish you think about the Ryder Cup.”
McGinley said that even if nothing significant happened this week that he had not settled upon his three wild cards, with five players — thought to be Gallacher, Molinari, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood — the favourites.
“Something will happen and there are a lot of permutations,” McGinley added after a bogey on the last gave him an opening 73.
“My selections won’t be a surprise, it won’t be coming out of left field. I will be going by logic. Francesco has played very well today and is very much in my mind.”
The lack of a “left-field” selection would appear to rule out Wiesberger, who finished 15th in the US PGA Championship after playing in the last group in the final round alongside eventual winner Rory McIlroy.
Wiesberger was fourth in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last year and also lost a five-man play-off in the same event in 2011, but said: “I think Stephen Gallacher should get a pick for the way he has played this year.
“Paul (McGinley) knows I play well at Gleneagles and I like the course, but I am pretty far down the list (23rd) and even if I win it would be a surprise to get that call on Tuesday,” he said.
“The first three days at Valhalla gave me a lot of confidence knowing I could get into that position and be in the last group in a major. I probably should have tried to make more of a move in the final round but I didn’t drive the ball that well that day and couldn’t really get it going.
“It was actually the first time I have had a really good performance in America as well so it was a big, big week for me and a pretty cool experience to be out so late on a Sunday in a major.”
Wiesberger and Molinari enjoyed a one-shot lead over American John Hahn, Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, England’s Richard Bland and South African Hennie Otto, with 17-year-old Italian amateur Edoardo Lipparelli among a seven-strong group another shot back. Scotland’s Marc Warren, an outside chance for a wild card following his win in Denmark a fortnight ago, carded a three-under-par 69 to finish alongside fellow hopeful Joost Luiten.