Russell Knox described his final round as a “bummer” after a closing 74 saw him surrender his WGC-HSBC Champions title to Hideki Matsuyama in disappointing fashion fashion, even though the Scot was the first to admit the Japanese player had been “brilliant” in succeeding him in Shanghai.
Knox had started the last day at Sheshan International sitting second, three shots behind Matsuyama, and still had an outside chance of becoming the only player after Tiger Woods to successfully retain one of the WGC crowns when he stood one-under for the day and 15-under for the tournament after eight holes.
However, the 31-year-old quickly tumbled out of contention after running up four bogeys in a row and ended up finishing 11 shots behind runaway winner Matsuyama in joint-ninth. It was the first time in eight rounds on this course that Knox had failed to shoot in the 60s and was six shots more than his closing effort 12 months ago as he finished on 20-under-par.
“Today was a bummer,” he admitted afterwards. “I got off to an okay start, but I was kind of in between clubs and I wasn’t able to make birdies. The other guys were and I just kind of started to force it. I made a mistake and a bad swing, and before you know it, I had just completely lost it. It was tough to pull myself back. It was a shame. I battled hard, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
In fairness, it was an excellent first title defence from the Invernesian and one consolation is that he is set to climb a spot to 19th in the world rankings today. “I definitely didn’t play well enough to win today, so hats off to Hideki. He was brilliant. He had no weaknesses the last two days. He drove the ball well and far, and his iron play was very good. And he made it look very easy, to be honest.
“One of my goals this year was to have more top 10s, so to have two out of two (he tied for 10th in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia the previous weekend) so far is nice. I was in the last group on Sunday both here and Malaysia, so I’m proud of myself for that. Just a little disappointed that I played horrendous both times.”
On-form Matsuyama turned on the style to become the first Japanese player to win a WGC event. The 24-year-old, who won the Japan Open a fortnight ago and was second in that Malaysian event, closed with a flawless 66 for a 23-under total, finishing well clear of Open champion Henrik Stenson and American Daniel Berger in joint-second. “Winning today I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the major tournaments,” said Matsuyama. “So my next goal is, of course, to win a major, and I’m going to do all that I can to prepare well for that.”
Rory McIlroy moved to second in the world rankings after sharing fourth place. However, his hopes of adding the Race to Dubai title to his FedEx Cup win this season now look slim after the four-time major winner withdrew from this week’s Turkish Airlines Open in Belek.
McIlroy did not give a reason when informing Tour officials of his decision on Saturday, but it is understood he has security concerns surrounding the first of the three Final Series events. McIlroy trails new Race to Dubai leader Stenson by more than a million points and admitted: “I guess it’s out of my hands.”