Ten of the 12 players from last year’s triumphant team at Le Golf National in Paris are in the field for the Rolex Series event, the odd ones out being Sergio Garcia and Thorbjorn Olesen. Garcia, winner of the KLM Open last weekend, is absent due to tax circumstances, while Olesen is due in court on Wednesday over a sexual assault charge on a flight from the US to London in July.
The battle on this occasion is to make Padraig Harrington’s team for a match that will be held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in just over a year’s time and, after getting close for both Hazeltine in 2016 then that encounter in France, Russell Knox is one of the men on a mission.
“The start of the Ryder Cup this week was my 100 per cent decision to travel here to Wentworth and to be teeing-up this week,” said the Florida-based Scot. “I think I heard Harrington say he expected everyone to be here – and I listened! I have played a lot of average, kind of below par golf this year, so hopefully with the Ryder Cup points kicking off I can snap into gear here and play some good stuff. There’s a huge incentive to play well this week, and if the winner is European, then it will be an amazing start to their Ryder Cup qualifying goal. That’s the goal for me coming here.
“I’ve just not had that little burst of form that I have been waiting patiently for, so hopefully it will come soon.”
A repeat of an Irish Open-like Rolex Series win last summer would be helpful before the qualification race ends at the same event next year. “Yes, 100 per cent,” he said of that requirement. “In saying that, though, if you finish second ten times I think you are also going to be on the team. Winners deserve to be on the team, it’s as simple as that. So, if you can go out and win big events, you are going to play your way on to the team. Consistent golf is what gets you on these teams. And consistently winning like the top boys do would be nice, too.”
Having been overlooked by both Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn when he had a strong claim for a wildcard, Knox is now hoping to qualify automatically for Harrington’s side. “I have played with him a few times and you obviously have to respect his golfing career,” he said of the three-time major winner. “He’s had an amazing career and for a few years he was incredible. He’s a likeable man. He’s different and I like that about him.”
Knox is also making his debut in next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and is hoping a strong couple of weeks can get him in the mix to play in the final three Rolex Series events on the European Tour season in Turkey, South Africa and Dubai.
“Historically, I have played pretty well in the fall,” he said, referring in particular to winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in 2015. “That’s why a little break after not making it far in the FedEx Cup means I should be refreshed and eager to go.
“I have been here two times before and I’ve enjoyed playing the golf course, but I just haven’t done any good,” he said, referring to missing the cut on both occasions. “So, hopefully a little date change (the event had traditionally been held in May until this year) will be good for me.”
Having flown the Saltire in the world’s top 100 on his own for quite a while, Knox was joined by Bob MacIntyre following his third second-place finish of the season in Germany recently. “He’s going to overtake me any day now, I think,” said Knox of his talented young compatriot, who is also in a star-studded Wentworth field. “He deserves to be Scotland No 1 right now. He’s played incredible and I was rooting hard for him the other week (in the Porsche European Open) and he was obviously very close again.
“Hats off to him. It’s been fun to watch and I am sure he and his family will be thrilled to bits at the moment. Good luck to him and I hope he goes on to be 100 times better than me.”