Well, well, well. Hasn’t the Ryder Cup qualifying race suddenly become very interesting indeed from a Scottish perspective? Out of nowhere, really, Russell Knox is now very much on Thomas Bjorn’s radar as it gets down to the nitty gritty in the battle for spots on the European team for September’s match in Paris.
The Invernesian is up to 11th, just three spots outside an automatic place, after backing up his second-place finish in the HNA Open de France by winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, adding another layer of excitement for home fans heading into this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane and the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Should Knox have made the last Ryder Cup? Probably, yes. So why didn’t he? Well, part of the reason was that he gave Darren Clarke an excuse for not picking him. After putting himself in the frame by winning the Travelers Championship, Knox was asked by Clarke to play in the Wyndham Championship, the final event on the PGA Tour before the qualifying race ended but decided against that.
It was perhaps seen as sending out the wrong message about his desire to make the team and that same week Thomas Pieters won the corresponding event on the European Tour, the Made in Denmark, to secure one of Clarke’s wildcards along with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
After missing out, Knox declared his intention to try to make the next team under his own steam and that’s exactly what he will now be aiming to do over the coming five weeks, when a massive number of points are up for grabs in a Rolex Series event, two majors and a World Golf Championship. As things stand, the eight automatic qualifiers would be Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey.
One way or another, you’ve got to think all of them will be part of Europe’s bid to win back the trophy after a hammering at Hazeltine.
It’s inconceivable, surely, that Europe would go into that battle on 28-30 September without either Sergio Garcia or Henrik Stenson in their ranks and, although Bjorn has four picks at his disposal on this occasion, Knox could be up against the likes of Ian Poulter, Matt Fitzpatrick and Thorbjorn Olesen if it again came down to him needing a wildcard.
Only time will tell what fate awaits the Scot on this occasion, but one thing for sure is that you get the feeling that he would be an asset for Europe against the Americans.
He knows how to win big events, having been unfazed when claiming the WGC-HSBC Champions in China at the end of 2015, rising to the challenge again in that Travelers Championship triumph the following year then doing so again in the Irish Open over the weekend.
He can also convert key putts, as illustrated by those two monster efforts on the 18th at Ballyliffin – the first to get into a play-off and the second to win that shootout against Kiwi Ryan Fox. What a way to win a golf tournament!
Knox is also one of those people who wear their heart on their sleeve. Remember his hat toss after holing a putt in a play-off in that Travelers Championship? And boy did he show everyone what knocking in those two putts meant to him on Sunday on the beautiful Donegal coastline. He’s Poulter-esque at times and we all know how he has performed most of his career in that unique Ryder Cup atmosphere.
It’s too early – way too early, in fact, as the final qualifying event, the Made in Denmark, isn’t until the end of next month – for anyone to say that Knox definitely should be on Bjorn’s team and this one is probably going to be tougher to make than the last one.
Fair play to Knox, though, for getting himself on that radar and back inside the world’s top 50, having slipped to 137th a few weeks back but now sitting 49th.
He’s given Scottish golf just the boost it was needing at the top level at the perfect time and now Knox deserves to have the whole country cheering him on as he bids to maintain his hot streak on home soil over the next fortnight.