Russell Knox dug deep to avoid an untimely missed cut as a potential second route into next month’s Ryder Cup for the Scot was quickly dismissed by Open champion Henrik Stenson, who described his withdrawal from the Barclays Championship as “precautionary”.
Knox, one of the contenders for Darren Clarke’s three wilds cards for the Hazeltine match, was in danger of making an early exit from the same event after starting his second round at Bethpage Black in New York with two bogeys to slip to four-over for the tournament.
The 31-year-old hasn’t missed a cut, however, since the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and, as has been the case on a number of occasions as a Ryder Cup debut became a possibility, he came up with the goods once again with his back-against-the-wall effort.
He made four birdies in six holes from the 15th – his sixth – before covering the last seven in level-par for a 69 and a level-par 142 total to comfortably make it to the weekend in the opening event in the FedEx Cup Play-Offs. It was an important fightback from the Invernesian because, while this event doesn’t carry any points in Europe’s Ryder Cup race, there’s no doubt that Clarke is paying just as much attention to it as the Made in Denmark on the European Tour before announcing his three wild cards at Wentworth on Tuesday.
Stenson, a former FedEx Cup winner, cited a recurrence of the knee problem that led to him having surgery last December for his withdrawal after the opening round, which saw Martin Laird earn a share of the lead with Patrick Reed on five-under. Knox, as the next player after the nine automatic qualifiers, would get in if the Swede was forced to give up his spot, but, according to Clarke, that is unlikely to happen. “I’ve just had a message from Henrik,” the European captain told Sky Sports before heading out for his second round in the Made in Denmark. “It’s sort of precautionary, thankfully. I sent him a message saying that is probably the best news I will hear all day. He’s being careful because the Ryder Cup means so much to him. Hopefully he is going to be okay.”
While unable to repeat his first-round fireworks in Clarke’s company, Belgian Thomas Pieters is still in contention at the halfway stage at Himmerland Golf. He’s sitting joint-third, four behind Welshman Bradley Dredge, while Dane Soren Kjeldsen and Irishman Shane Lowry also kept their wild-card hopes alive with 66 and 65 respectively in the company of Paul Lawrie, one of Clarke’s vice-captains.
“I’ve got so many scenarios going around in my head at the minute,” admitted the European skipper. “It’s probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my golfing career. I’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the right three wild-card picks to balance up the team. It was unbelievable how well Thomas played yesterday. It was very, very impressive and he’s one of the guys right in the mix. It’s going to be an interesting few days.”
After a second-round 72 for a four-under total, Martin Laird sits joint-fifth, four behind Patrick Reed, in the Barclays Championship.