Russell Knox ‘thrilled’ to stay in contention in Shanghai

Russell Knox is sitting three shots off the lead in joint-second in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Picture: Getty Images

Russell Knox is sitting three shots off the lead in joint-second in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Picture: Getty Images

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Russell Knox, the defending champion, was “thrilled” to remain in contention at the halfway stage in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

The 31-year-old backed up his opening 66 with an equally solid 68 in breezy conditions at Sheshan International to sit on 10-under-par.

He’s lying joint-second, three shots behind Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama after he stormed to the top of the leaderboard with a best-of-the-day 65.

Knox is alongside American Bill Haas (67) while world No 3 Rory McIlroy also moved into contention as a 66 left him on seven-under.

“I had a couple of chances there at the end, which I would have loved to have made,” said Knox of good birdie opportunites at the 16th and 18th.

“But every shot was very difficult after it started raining, so I’m thrilled with four under.”

Two behind overnight leader Rikard Karlberg at the start of the day, the Scot birdied the second before dropping his only shot of the event so far with a 5 at the third.

In much tougher conditions than the opening day, he then picked up three birdies in four holes from the fifth to be out in 33 before continuing his excellent title defence with a 2 at the 12th

“It was a little cold, but I’m built for this,” added Knox, who is bidding to become only the second player following Tiger Woods to defend a WGC title.

“As much as I would say I don’t enjoy playing in this weather, I’m good at it. I hope it’s like this at the weekend.

“You have to try and find your edge when it’s like that. If you have a good attitude when the weather gets bad, you can maybe pick up half a shot mentally.”

World No 10 Matsuyama won the Japan Open earlier this month then finished runner-up to Justin Thomas in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia last weekend.

The 24-year-old started his second round with a bogey before carding nine birdies, including four in five holes from the tenth.

“It was starting to get windy during the warm up this morning and I thought maybe a couple under par would be a good score. So I’m really happy with how it ended up today,” admitted the leader.

“It was tough out there, but I hit some good second shots and made some putts, and that’s what made it a good round.

“I’ve played here before and haven’t done well at all, so this is a nice surprise for me. I’m not sure what has made the difference. Maybe it’s my attitude - I’m having fun and enjoying myself.”

McIlroy, who’d struggled on the greens in the opening round, made the day’s significant move as he found his putting touch to make seven birdies.

“I feel like I actually hit the ball pretty similarly the first two days, but I just holed a few more putts today and was able to take advantage of some of the good drives that I was hitting,” said the world No 3.

“A 66 in these conditions is pretty good out there, and it looks like from the way the leaderboard is, I’m going to need a couple more scores like that to have any chance.”

The four-time major winner reckons he needs a win in the final few weeks of the season to top the Race to Dubai and complete the double, having already claimed the FedEx Cup this year.

“My game feels really good, it really does,” he added. “Hopefully I can have a good weekend here. There’s still a lot to play for this year and I will try to really give myself a chance to win another Race to Dubai.”

Italian Francesco Molinari, the 2010 winner, jumped to a share of fourth place on eight-under with England’s Richard Bland (68) and American Daniel Berger (70).

Unable to reproduce the sparkling golf in his opening effort, Karlberg slipped 12 spots to joint-13th after a 75.

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