Open door for Knox as McIlroy gives up on Open

Rory McIlroy: Unable to defend Claret Jug. Picture: Rory McIlroy via AP
Rory McIlroy: Unable to defend Claret Jug. Picture: Rory McIlroy via AP
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RUSSELL Knox has set his sights on “doing a John Daly” after the Scot secured a spot in next week’s Open Championship at St Andrews following the withdrawal of Rory McIlroy.

Having already pulled out of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open starting at Gullane today, the world No 1 also gave up last night on his slim hopes of defending the Claret Jug in Fife.

It follows McIlroy suffering a ‘’total rupture’’ of the anterior talofibular ligament in his left ankle while playing football with friends.

“After much consideration, I have decided not to play in the Open Championship at St Andrews,’’ the 26-year-old wrote on Instagram. “I’m taking a long-term view of this injury and, although rehab is progressing well, I want to come back to tournament play when I feel 100 per cent healthy and 100 per cent competitive.

“Thank you for all your support and best wishes. I hope to be back on the course as soon as I can… In the meantime, come on Andy!!!’’ That was a reference to McIlroy’s friend, Andy Murray, who could be seen in the Instagram post on television playing his Wimbledon quarter-final as McIlroy watched.

McIlroy is the first player not to defend his Open title since Ben Hogan in 1954. “We are naturally very disappointed that Rory will be unable to defend his title at St Andrews next week,” said an R&A statement on Twitter.

“Rory will play in many more Open Championships and our primary concern is for his complete recovery. Everyone associated with The Open wishes Rory the very best as he looks to return to full fitness.”

As first reserve on a list determined by the world rankings, – another Scot, Richie Ramsay, is now third in line for a call up – Knox replaces McIlroy, boosting the home contingent to five in joining Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren in the field. “Everyone is gutted for Rory,” said Knox, who was told the news via a text message from his wife, Andrea, while the 30-year-old was playing in the pro-am at Gullane. “He is in the prime of his career and would have had a great chance. Nobody wants to get in because someone got injured but I am happy I am in the field and can’t wait to give it a blast.

“What Scot does not want to play in the Open, let alone an Open at St Andrews? I’m going to go all John Daly on it, get in the last minute and go and win.” Daly won the 1991 US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick after initially being ninth reserve and driving through the night to reach Indiana in time for the first round.

“I’m thrilled, because this is now two very special weeks for me,” added Jacksonville-based Knox. ‘It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders because, honestly, I was thinking about it. You always think, as first reserve ‘I’ll probably get in, I’ll probably get in…’ But sometimes you don’t.

“So it is kind of nice not to have all the pressure on, flying all the way over here. If I then shot two 80s around here, I would have been miserable. And I’ve been told in plenty of time. Now I can start to plan and prepare properly. And at least I don’t have to do what I did at Hoylake last year, when I was second reserve, spending the day eating bacon and beans, hanging around waiting – but knowing I wasn’t going to get in.

“It will be the first time I’ve played the Old Course as a professional. I played in the British Amateur there. It was one round on the Old Course, one round on the New Course, years and years ago. I don’t want to lessen the importance of this week. This tournament still means the world to me. But it’s great to be following it up with a major.”

In his amateur days, Knox had a hole-in-one at Gullane while playing in the Scottish Amateur Championship, on the hole being played as the 12th (ironically, it was around there that he received his good piece of news yesterday) on the composite Championship Course. Now he would love to be celebrating again on the East Lothian course, this time by winning his national championship.

“Coming back here is a real thrill,” said Knox, who stopped off for two days at Wimbledon before paying a flying visit to home city Inverness earlier in the week, when he was thrilled to return to Nairn Dunbar to receive honorary membership.

“I’ve played well enough to win a few times this year, but I haven’t quite putted well enough or I’ve had a sloppy finish. I feel that if I do break through and get my first win on the big stage that it will then be easier. I’ve always had to prove to myself that I was able to do it before I have really done it. If I was able to get this one it would be a dream come true.”

As would being Scotland’s top-ranked player, which is a distinct possibility. Knox is up to 77th in the world and has both Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren, sitting 64th and 65th respectively, in his sights. “It’s a goal to become Scottish No 1 and my college coach always told me ‘play well and everything takes care of itself’. That’s a simple phrase to live by.”