STEPHEN GALLACHER posted his best finish of the new European Tour season as Joost Luiten scored the sixth title of his career on the circuit in the NBO Oman Open.
While Gallacher got his 2018 campaign up and running with a share of ninth place, Luiten emerged victorious from a final day battle with Chris Wood and claimed a two shot victory. At one stage of the afternoon, there were 10 players within four shots of the lead as the final group reached the turn but it evolved into a shoot-out between Luiten and Wood on the back nine, with the experienced duo going toe-to-toe in the desert. It was the Dutchman who prevailed, though, carding a fourunder 68 to get to 16-under and edge out his English rival. Gallacher signed off with a 70 for a nine-under 279 to squeeze into the top-10. Luiten’s win was his first since he won the KLM Open in his homeland in 20016. It moved him into the top-10 of the Race to Dubai rankings and earned him a spot in the forthcoming WGC – Mexico Championship.
“This is why you play golf, to hold trophies,” said Luiten after giving his Ryder Cup qualifying ambitions a timely lift. “It’s been a great week. It’s always tough to win out here, all these guys are so good and they keep putting pressure on you. “Down the stretch I hit some nice shots, I made some nice putts and it was a nice battle with my friend Woody. I need to win another couple to get into the Ryder Cup team but it’s a great start to the year for me.”
Luiten and Wood enjoyed an enthralling nip-and-tuck battle down the back nine but the key moment arrived when Luiten holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th to get to 16- under and Wood bogeyed the next. Wood finished alone in second at 14-under and it was an encouraging return to form for the 2016 Ryder Cup player, who had missed his first three cuts of the season. “I’m pretty down but in the grand scheme of things it’s night and day to how I’ve been,” said the towering Bristol man. “After a couple of days I’m sure I’ll reflect and see that it’s a big step in the right direction this week.”
With Gallacher taking that share of ninth, David Drysdale was the next best Scot on the fringes of the top-20 with a 71 for 283. Fife rookie Connor Syme signed off with a 73 for a 286 while Paul Lawrie, Bradley Neil and Marc Warren all came in on the 292 mark.
On the LPGA Tour, meanwhile, South Korean rookie Jin Young Ko underlined her huge potential with a three-shot win in the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open. Ko fired a final day three-under 69 for a 14-under 274 and eased home ahead of Hye-jin Choi. Charley Hull was the leading Brit in a share of seventh on a six-under 282.
Melrose-born Aussie Karis Davidson, who finished second in the Ladies European Tour’s Vic Open recently, stepped up to the LPGA Tour and finished just outside the leading 30 with a 288. Aberdeen’s Michele Thomson finished a couple of shots further back with a 291.
Meanwhile, Shannon McWilliam got her tour of South Africa off to a fine start with a commanding win in the Border Amateur Championship in East London. The Aboyne teenager reeled off rounds of 72, 69 and 75 for a three-under total of 216 and won by six shots from a chasing pack which included her fellow Scot, Hannah McCook. McWilliam, who was runner-up in last season’s Helen Holm Women’s Strokeplay at Troon, has been named in the initial GB&I training squad for this year’s Curtis Cup and the young Scot has staked an early claim for selection for the tussle against the USA with a fine display in the Rainbow Nation. McCook strung together cards of 71, 75 and 76 to share second place with Danielle Du Toit of Pretoria.
McWilliam and McCook will continue their warm-weather trip with appearances in the South African Women’s Masters and the Supersport Ladies Challenge. Elsewhere in South Africa, Kilmarnock’s former European Tour player Jack Doherty shared 18th in the Dimension Data Pro-Am.