Russell Knox predicted the opportunity that he has been given to impress Darren Clarke when the Scottish No 1 sets out in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship today in the same group as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain.
“When I saw Darren was playing here, I told my wife two weeks ago, ‘I bet you I’m paired with him’ and I’ve been proved right,” he declared, revealing the duo have said “hello” in the past but not much else.
It might have stayed that way if Knox hadn’t catapulted himself on to Clarke’s radar by winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November. Unfortunately for Knox, that didn’t count for him in the Ryder Cup qualifying race, but he’s on the starting grid now after joining the European Tour for the 2016 campaign.
“It is a great opportunity for us to get to know each other and I’m interested to see how it goes for me playing with Darren,” added the 30-year-old, who is paying his first visit to the Middle East. “I might be a little more nervous than I would be if I wasn’t playing with him, but it’s a good thing as getting into the Ryder Cup team is one of my big goals for this year.
“I watched the EurAsia Cup on TV last week [when Clarke’s first outing as a captain produced a thumping win over Asia] and his team played unbelieveable. He’s a great guy, so it will be a good two days for me here.”
Having already played in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa before Christmas, this is the second of the five regular European Tour events Knox needs to tee up in to fulfil the circuit’s new membership criteria.
It was already known that he will be returning to Inverness, his home city, to play in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open later in the year, and he has now decided on two other starts on this side of the Atlantic.
“I’ve included the Irish Open and the BMW PGA Championship,” he said of events being staged back-to-back in late May at The K Club and Wentworth respectively. “Things might still change with some of the tournaments I’ve pencilled in on my schedule, but No 1 on it is the Scottish Open – that will be my fifth major.”
Admitting he felt “good” to be standing on the range at Abu Dhabi Golf Club wearing his European Tour players’ badge, Knox added: “I think I will struggle a bit trying to play two Tours. I need to be careful not to expect too much, though my goals are high and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
“The win in Shanghai did my confidence the world of good. I can now stand on a range full of superstars and know that I’ve managed to beat them over four days. That is a comforting feeling, believe me. At the same time, a win brings higher expectation levels and I am going to have to manage that. I’m glad I missed the cut last week [in the Sony Open in Hawaii] because it’s knocked me back down and reminded me about how you have to keep working hard in this game.”