Paul Lawrie isn’t the only golfer who feels he has an edge on rivals when either a waterproof jacket or extra layers are required. Russell Knox may live in Florida and prefer having the sun on his back out on the course. But, let’s not forget, he cut is golfing teeth in cold and wet conditions. The type they’ve had so far this week in Shanghai for the $9.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions and Knox reckons that could play into his hands over the next two days.
“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,” said the defending champion after arriving at the halfway stage at Sheshan International sitting joint second, three shots behind Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. “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.”
That attitude helped him prevail in this event in similar conditions 12 months ago when he became the first Scot to win a World Golf Championship. Now he is trying to become just the second player after Tiger Woods to retain one of those titles. After rounds of 66 and 68 for a 10-under- par total, he is doing a good job so far. He clearly feels comfortable in these events and nothing he achieves going forward should come as a surprise.
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 five 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 two at the 12th.
“I had a couple of chances there at the end, which I would have loved to have made,” said Knox of good birdie opportunities at the 16th and 18th. “But every shot was very difficult towards the end when it started raining, so I’m thrilled with four under.”
Matsuyama is a man on form. He won the Japan Open earlier this month then finished runner-up to Justin Thomas in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia last Sunday, climbing to world No 10 in the process. The 24-year-old started his second round with a bogey before carding nine birdies, including four in five holes from the tenth, in a best-of-the-day 65.
“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,” he admitted. “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.”
American Bill Haas is alongside Knox after a 67, the pair sitting two shots ahead of 2010 winner Edoardo Molinari, Englishman Richard Bland and Daniel Berger. Lurking ominously in the group a shot further back is Rory McIlroy. He has come from six behind in the final round to win, so is definitely in the mix with 36 holes to go. “Hideki’s playing very well and will be tough to catch, but from what I saw out there today, if I can keep that sort of golf going over the next two days, I should have a chance,” said the world No 3.
McIlroy, who had struggled on the greens in the opening round, 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,” he added. “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.”