'Go for it Stevie,' urges Ryder Cup skipper McGinley
Scot Gallacher can throw off Ryder Cup shroud in Turin
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has personal experience of the shroud of expectancy and excitement which will envelop Stephen Gallacher in Turin but insists it'll give the sturdy Scot a perfect opportunity to make the right impression.
Gallacher must finish first or second at the Open d'Italia on Sunday to gain automatic selection for next month's showdown with the US at Gleneagles, a course he knows as well as his own back yard.
If he accomplishes this mission at the Circolo Golf Torino, Gallacher will knock new dad Graeme McDowell out of the all-important top nine on the Ryder Cup points list, which would leave the Portrush native needing a pick from McGinley next Tuesday. Gallacher, 39, has history when it comes to pipping McDowell on the cusp. He overcame G-Mac in extra-time at the Dunhill Links in 2004 to clinch the first of his three career victories on the European Tour.
Yet there's only one reason McDowell might end up pacing the boards in Orlando, Florida, this weekend and it's nothing to do with golf as the delighted Ulsterman welcomes home wife Kristin with their first child, a beautiful baby daughter.
The competition for McGinley's three wild cards already is white hot with England's Medinah miracle-workers Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, plus Italy's Francesco Molinari, already beyond the pale.
Westwood didn't make it into the 100-man field which tees it up tomorrow at the second FedEx Cup playoff, The Deutsche Bank Championship.
Europe's Ryder Cup talisman Poulter will almost certainly get the call from McGinley but Donald needs to produce a big weekend at TPC Boston to clinch a pick, while Molinari, one suspects, must win in Turin to gain selection, just as his elder brother Francesco did in 2010 with a stunning last-ditch victory at The Johnnie Walker, ironically enough in Gleneagles.
Given his high regard for Westwood's bulldog spirit in the team room, he too is a favourite for a wild card. Celtic Manor match-clincher McDowell is unlikely to be left at home. If Gallacher comes up short next Sunday after a gallant effort, he'll be worthy of that third pick, especially given his record at Gleneagles, which includes a runner-up finish last year and two top-sixes since Jack Nicklaus remodelled the course in 2011.
Yet McGinley, shrewd as ever, was keeping all the cards close to his chest last night in Italy.
Acknowledging the gauntlet Gallacher must run, McGinley said: "I was in a similar position myself going into the 2004 Ryder Cup. I was just inside Bernhard Langer's team going into the final counting event but I was defending my position from Freddie Jacobson and we actually played together in the final round.
"Actually, it came right down to the last hole," added the Dubliner, who matched the Swede's closing 68 with one of his own. "We finished in the top six; I pushed myself into the team and went on to play what I consider to be my best Ryder Cup in Detroit."
Back in action after six weeks battling bursitis in his left shoulder, McGinley plays with resurgent Scot Marc Warren in the first two rounds. Intriguingly, Padraig Harrington and David Howell, tipped to fill the vacant vice-captaincies next Tuesday, have been drawn with another Ryder Cup nearly-man Joost Luiten.
Pointing out that the pressure in Turin pales alongside the tension at the Ryder Cup, McGinley said: "What I'm looking for this week is a guy who sees the finishing tape and bursts through it. A guy excited by the pressure and his last chance of pushing himself across the line, particularly in Stevie's case. He knows his destiny is in his own hands. It's a pressure situation, but it's very exciting thing too."
Michael Hoey's favourite to win the North of Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle but expect a hefty challenge from in-form EuroPro regular Michael McGeady and local amateur Dermot McElroy, 21, who was top-10 here last year.
Damiani Open d'Italia, Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30am