Wimbledon Sunday might deliver Scottish success, after all. And Russell Knox deserves Andy Murray-style backing at Gullane today. Not since Colin Montgomerie achieved the feat at Loch Lomond in 1999 has the Scottish Open fallen to a home player. But Knox has that Aberdeen Standard Investments-sponsored title in his sights. After a third-round 66 for an 11-under-par total, the 33-year-old Invernesian sits just two off the lead, held by Swede Jens Dantorp after he finished with three straight birdies to break out of a huge logjam on 12-under-par.
Stephen Gallacher is also in contention heading into the final circuit, having catapulted himself up the leaderboard with a 65 to lie two shots behind his compatriot. Even Gallacher, though, would be quick to concede that Knox is entitled to carry the bulk of Scottish expectation on the sun-baked East Lothian coast.
Knox has produced some pretty tasty golf in the past to become the first player flying the Saltire to win a World Golf Championship. That HSBC Champions success in China in 2015 was followed by an equally impressive victory in the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour the following year. This, though, is the best run of form he’s ever enjoyed, finishing joint second in the French Open a fortnight ago before winning the Irish Open last weekend.
He was running on fumes earlier in the week, but not now. He “slept like a king” on Friday night before tucking into a hearty Scottish breakfast on Saturday morning. Now Knox is relishing the chance to be crowned the “King of Scotland”. He’ll have to see off Rickie Fowler, the winner here in 2015. Another former champion, Justin Rose, is also in the mix, as is 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman. No-one in world golf is playing better at the moment, though, than Knox.
He was in the same group with Rory McIlroy when the four-time major champion followed a birdie at the 16th with a closing eagle to win the 2016 Irish Open at The K Club. The Scot would like a bit of that himself on home soil. “I remember it well,” he recalled of that event. “The crowd were not rooting against me by any means – the Irish crowd were great. As it came to the end, I birdied 15 and went one ahead and that was when the crowd thought ‘oh no, Rory might not win.’ Then he went on to hit the best shot he’s ever hit and that was that. Tomorrow, if it’s me versus someone who’s not Scottish, then I sure hope they root for me! Today, I knew that 17 (where a large crowd enjoyed the sunshine in a “Tennent’s Bar”) would be rowdy, but I hit a dreadful shot in there and was happy to make par. I can’t promise anything tomorrow apart from the fact I will give it everything I’ve got. Other than winning a major, this is right up there with the tournament you really want to win the most. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
As a crowd of 15,089 enjoyed what was the first proper Open Championship-type day at this event since it moved to links courses in 2011, a breeze had got up for the first time this week as the final groups started out. All of a sudden, the front wasn’t the pushover it had been earlier in the event. “I hit 5-wood, lob wedge into one the first day and hit driver, 6-iron today,” reported Knox of how the course became a totally different test.
His score was made by a burst of four birdies in six holes from the 11th, leaving him lurking ominously. Dantorp, a 29-year-old who has recorded one top 10 in 61 starts on the European Tour, signed for a 68 to edge ahead of a group that includes Kiwi Ryan Fox, the player Knox beat in a play-off at Ballyliffin last Sunday. Also in that leading posse are Australian Scott Hend, German Marcel Siem, Swedish duo Alexander Bjork and Jens Dantorp, as well as Fowler.
On a tightly-packed leaderboard, 26 players are covered by four shots, including Rose and Immelman on 10-under, but Fowler is licking his lips as he bids to repeat that sweet success here three years ago. “I’m definitely in a good spot and I am ready to go and have some fun tomorrow,” said the American. “I’m looking forward to it. I enjoy playing this course. Today was how this course is supposed to play. The first couple of days it didn’t really show its teeth, but it was a good test. It’s going to be fun. Someone’s going to have to go out there and earn it.”
After his stunning 62 on Friday, Connor Syme took 10 shots more to slip to four-under, sitting alongside Duncan Stewart (71), while Jamie McLeary (72) is two further back.