How Russell Knox would love to take up in this Open where he left off at Royal Troon 12 months ago. A 69, after all, would probably feel more like 65 or 66 for the Scot at the moment as golf has become a challenge, writes Martin Dempster.
That wasn’t the case, of course, when he became the first player from the sport’s cradle to win a World Golf Championship in China at the end of 2015. Nor when he triumphed in the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour just under a year ago and ended up being unlucky to miss out on a Ryder Cup debut at Hazeletine.
Little has been going right for the 32-year-old over the past few months, though, and missed cuts in both the French Open and the Scottish Open certainly were not what he was looking for coming into a third successive appearance in the Claret Jug event.
“There is no panic,” he insisted in trying, understandably, to stay positive. “I mean, it’s not like I’m losing my card. I just don’t need to rush to change things. Some people, when they’re struggling a bit, they start swapping equipment, getting a new coach here or there. I think I just need to stay on the course and keep battling away. Seriously, it’s the difference between hitting one good shot and one bad shot a round. That could make the world of difference. So I’ll stick at it.”
The Invernesian is out early in the opening round with Ian Poulter and Alex Noren, both of whom could help bring out the best in Knox if they are firing on all cylinders from the start. “For me, it’s all going to be about the first round, just getting off to a good start,” he added. “It’s been a long time since I shot a good score and sat in the top 10 or 20 in the opening round. It would be nice to play my way into contention early. And I have a chance, playing early on Thursday morning. Then, you never know. I’m playing better than I’m scoring at the moment and this is definitely in my top three links courses. It could be the very best – it’s just unbelievable. And I think it does suit my eye. There is a lot of hitting into areas, so it takes away the long hitters’ advantage on a lot of holes.
“You still have to keep it out of the bunkers and it’s really a mid-iron course. That has been my strength in the past. I drove the ball fairly decent last week and have been pretty good in practice. It would be nice to have a week of striping it down the middle at every hole. It would make a huge difference here.”