Russell Knox narrowly misses back-to-back wins

Russell Knox, right, shakes hands with Graeme McDowell after his play-off loss to the Ulsterman. Picture: Getty
Russell Knox, right, shakes hands with Graeme McDowell after his play-off loss to the Ulsterman. Picture: Getty
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Eight days after becoming the first Scot to win a World Golf Championship with his HSBC Champions success in Shanghai, Russell Knox has another feather in his cap as the new leader of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.

It goes without saying, of course, that the 30-year-old would have preferred to have achieved that notable feat by making it back-to-back wins, which was on the cards when he arrived at the 72nd hole in thePGA Tour’s weather-delayed OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico. However, it would be wrong to cast any darkness on the bogey he took there or the fact he then lost out in a play-off to Graeme McDowell, who produced a moment of magic to claim a welcome victory, because Knox, the new Scottish No 1, has done himself and his country proud over the past fortnight.

I want to be back up there, winning more major championships and winning more tournaments, so this is special

Graeme McDowell

“I gave it my best shot and got beat by a great birdie there,” said the Inverness man of backing up two 65s in the middle of the tournament with a closing 66 to finish tied on 18-under-par with McDowell and American

Jason Bohn, before watching the 2010 US Open champion clinch victory at the first play-off hole by almost holing a 5-iron from around 200 yards.

In truth, it was a remarkable achievement that Knox overcame both a celebratory hangover and the fact he’d travelled halfway across the world to fulfill a commitment to play in the Playa del Carmen event to get himself into the mix following an opening 70.

What he confirmed over the final three days, however, is that he fully merits that newly-secured position in the world’s top 50 and, having got the taste for victory, we can feel confident he’ll be challenging for that second win again after a well-earned rest, during which he will make a decision about joining the European Tour to be eligible for next year’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

Tied for the lead with McDowell as the final round resumed, Knox soon got his nose in front with a birdie at the par-5 13th and duly displayed a combination of composure from the tee and nerves of steel on the greens to keep it there as he headed to the 18th tee at El Camaleon Golf Club. “It is tough to argue with a guy who is freewheeling it,” said McDowell of Knox, believing he was going to be pipped by the Scot despite bravely holing a 10-foot par putt at the same hole in the match ahead to set the clubhouse target after he, too, closed with a five-under 66.

Unfortunately for Knox, this particular closing hole will not be remembered as fondly as the one at Sheshan International, where he entered the winner’s enclosure with a two-shot victory over a field that included both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. His tee shot was pulled and found a bunker, the lip of which prevented him from finding the putting surface in regulation. From just short of it, however, he’d still have fancied his chances of getting up and down but neither his chip or a 15-foot par putt matched what he’d produced beforehand.

Needless to say, Knox parred the same hole in the play-off, which also featured American Jason Bohn, but he already knew that wasn’t going to be good enough after McDowell, showing the hallmarks of a major winner, had left himself with a straightforward task for a title-winning birdie. “It gives me something to really grab on to,” said the 36-year-old as he celebrated a first PGA Tour triumph since April 2013 and first overall since last year’s French Open. “When you go through a year like this (slipping to 85th in the world rankings, though he is now back up to 62nd), you think ‘am I finished’ or ‘am I not good enough’.

You ask yourself a lot of questions. I’ve been dreaming of this day and I said to myself I was going to appreciate it when it came, and I’m going to appreciate this one. This year has been a grind. I want to be back up there, winning more major championships and winning more tournaments, so this is special.”

So, too, have the past two weeks been for Knox. Having started the year 100th in the world, he’s risen another two spots to 29th. With that, and the fact he’s 38-under for eight rounds with a scoring average of 66.75, has won a sackful of money and just happens to be the No 1 on the PGA Tour right now, he shouldn’t dwell too long on that 72nd-hole disappointment.