UNLIKE either Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods, Russell Knox found the Honda Classic an uplifting experience as the 28-year-old signalled his intent to join the handful of Scots – Sandy Lyle, Ken Brown and Martin Laird – in the modern era to win on the PGA Tour.
“Almost did it,” wrote Knox on Twitter of a brave effort at Palm Beach Gardens, where he courageously holed a nine-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to secure his place in a four-man play-off that was won at the first extra hole by American Russell Henley. “More importantly, I found out I can.”
It was a career-best effort in 44 starts from Knox on the US circuit, though certainly not a flash in the pan. Since earning his card for the second time in three seasons, the Inverness man – he moved to America in 2004 to attend Jacksonville University on a golf scholarship and is now a US citizen – has made eight out of ten cuts and finished in the top 30 each time.
He won $448,000 on Sunday, jumping from 43rd to 19th in the FedEx Cup standings with season’s earnings of just over $873,000. He’s also on the up in the world rankings, having leapt 87 places to 119th – now the third top Scot after 39th-ranked Stephen Gallacher and Martin Laird (94th).
“Obviously I wish I would have won, but just the way I felt coming down the last few holes was something I won’t forget, and when given the chance again, maybe it will be my turn,” admitted Knox, a former Inverness Caledonian Thistle youth footballer whose sister, Diane, is a successful radio DJ in the west of Scotland.
While not one of the game’s longest hitters, Knox is 13th for accuracy off the tee overall on the PGA Tour this season. He’s played the par-3s better than anyone, sitting 14-under for them, and was closest in proximity to the hole during the Honda event on one of the toughest courses on the circuit.
“I know that my game is improving every week and I feel like this is a position which I feel like I should be in,” added the patriotic Scot, who now looks a good bet to receive an invitation for his home Open at Royal Aberdeen in July and, moreover, should be in a position to accept that with his PGA Tour card all but wrapped up for next season. “I’m confident in my game. I was very pleased with my finish. My previous best was tied ninth, so how can I be disappointed with this?” How indeed.
McIlroy, in contrast, found little comfort in finishing second after he let slip a three-shot lead and failed for a third time this year to convert promising positions heading into the final roind. “I didn’t play well enough to deserve to win today. It’s very disappointing. It was a perfect opportunity to win. No one was really coming at me,” he said. “There’s a few positives to take, but obviously it’s going to be hard to get over because I had a great chance to win my first tournament of the season and I didn’t. It’s tough to take at the minute, but I’ll sleep it off tonight and get back at it.”
In addition to landing his second PGA Tour title, Henley also secured one of the final two spots up for grabs in this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship after returning to the world’s top 50. Kevin Stadler got the other berth through the FedEx Cup standings, with Woods facing a race against time to be fit for that event after his withdrawal following 13 holes on Sunday with back trouble.