The Ryder Cup race is nearing its end and Stephen Gallacher, the only Scottish hopeful, began his final push for the line with a two-under 70 in the first round of the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague yesterday.

The 39-year-old is currently on the fringes of the automatic qualifying places with just two events to play. The wild card route, courtesy of the Europe team captain Paul McGinley, remains a possibility but Gallacher, having missed his last two cuts, in the PGA Championship and the Wyndham Champion in the United States, was desperate to return to the form that had thrust him into contention for a spot at next month's showpiece at Gleneagles.

He has only this event and next week's Italian Open to stake a final claim and his steady card yesterday left him four shots behind the early leader Jamie Donaldson, whose 66 was a purposeful start to his bid to set the seal on his own Ryder Cup spot.

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Gallacher won his first major professional event in Prague - it came on the Challenge Tour back in 1998 - and he marked his return to the Czech capital with a tidy three-birdie round. He finished alongside three fellow Scots, Paul Lawrie, Duncan Stewart and Peter Whiteford. Craig Lee was the leading Scot after carding a 69, while Scott Jamieson opened his challenge with a one-under 71.

Donaldson currently holds the eighth of nine automatic places for the team in Gleneagles due to his position on the world points list, but a combined winning haul of just under €30,000 (£24,000) in the Czech Republic and in Italy next week would allow him to qualify via the European list.

And a six-under-par round gave the 38-year-old a one-shot lead in a tournament which carries a €166,660 (£128,000) first prize.

Qualification from the European list would be a relief with Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Gallacher also battling it out for the final place in the world standings.

"I played nicely," Donaldson admitted. "The course was playing tough early on, quite windy and then died down late but that finish is pretty tough, so I'm happy with the result.

"I know what I've got to do this week so it's just a case of going out and doing it. It's another golf tournament where you've got to go out there and play as well as you can and content to win the tournament.

"I'm in a position to do that now; I just need more of the same. There are other things circling around this result but you have to get on with it and keep doing the same things you've been doing every week."