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The 'Georgia Open' holds few fears for Gallacher . . .

FOR a first-time Masters competitor, Stephen Gallacher should be one of the least nervous of the two-dozen debutants teeing up today at Augusta National.

Stephen Gallacher practises ahead of the Masters today, where he will play with Darren Clarke and Nick Whatney. Picture: Getty Sport
Stephen Gallacher practises ahead of the Masters today, where he will play with Darren Clarke and Nick Whatney. Picture: Getty Sport

Not since the second Masters in 1935 have there been so many first-timers and Gallacher, at 38 years of age, is the second oldest, behind only 51-year-old Iowa insurance executive Michael McCoy, who won last year's Mid-Amateur Championship.

Gallacher will step on to Augusta's first tee and as is been customary, the official starter with the very Georgian accent will announce: "Fore, please. Stephen Gallacher now driving!"

The Scot is sure to have butterflies, his knees will be knocking and his heart pumping but he has the experience to convince himself it is just like any other tournament. "My coach, Dave Stockton said to just treat it like it was the Georgia Open," he said smiling. "I said 'yeah, right, Dave' but I can see where he's coming from.

"That's why I haven't over-prepared and tried to stay fresh as you know it's going to be a tough week mentally and physically. So it's all a matter of executing it tomorrow. I know I am going to be nervous and also excited and if you lose that you're in the wrong game, and I think that once I do tee off I can treat it like a normal tournament."

Gallacher wound up his preparations mid-morning yesterday, playing Augusta's front nine with just his Livingston-based caddie, Damien Moore. The serious work commences today when Gallacher will complete the goal of having contested all four major championships, since making his debut in the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews as the then Scottish Amateur Strokeplay and Lytham Trophy champion.

"It was nice this morning to get out early and play nine holes and get around in two-and-three-quarter hours so that was great," he said. "I've now played four sets of nine and earlier in the week with past cham-pions Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam, so you can't do much better preparations than that.

"Miguel [Angel Jimenez] was playing yesterday with Olazabal and he's been here 14 times and we know what Ollie's done here. Then I played with Sandy and he also gave me great insight. It was similar advice from all three former winners here: that is to play your own game.

"So my emotions are fine and I'm looking forward to starting tomorrow and also playing the par-3 contest this afternoon with Jack and Ellie [his children] pulling on the caddie overalls, so that should be fun. But coming out on to the course I could not believe how steep it is. The 10th and 18th fairways could be immediate ski runs and that's unbelievable."

Gallacher first drove down Magnolia Lane on Saturday and while he has now spent the past five days trying to familiarise himself with the golf course, he seems not to have soaked-up much of the history of Augusta National.

When quizzed if he had wandered over to study the 18th-hole fairway bunker from where Lyle hit a 7-iron to set up 1988 Masters glory, Gallacher commented: "No, I've just been trying to keep it on the fairway."

But he has been impressed by the large number of spectators who have flocked to the course. "It's the amazing, the transformation," he said. "There was not one person on the course Saturday, and then Sunday they were holding the kids 'drive, chip and putt' competition, but from Monday the crowds have just been amazing.

"It's just a great golf course, a great event and the history and all that is just what I expected, really."

However while Gallacher has been low key in the eyes of the international media gathered here in Augusta, his young 12-year-old son, Jack, stole the limelight earlier in the week in being interviewed by CBS TV.

His comments and revelation came as a real surprise to one female news reporter.

"I wasn't there at the time when she interviewed Jack but she thought she was just getting a comment from a random kid," said Gallacher. "And Jack says his father was playing in the Masters and he's also the nephew of a former Ryder Cup captain, so she nearly had a heart-attack!"

Gallacher will play the opening two rounds with former Open champion Darren Clarke and Nick Watney.

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