Russell Knox had already rattled his hand against a towering pine tree en route to the recorder’s tent in frustration before delivering a typically honest assessment of a disappointing final hole in the third round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
“It sucks,” said the 33-year-old of spoiling a decent day’s work on the Regnum Carya course in Belek by signing off with a double-bogey 6 after seeing his tee shot find water on the left off the fairway.
Knox, who is making his debut in the $7 million event, had worked his way up into the top 10 after covering the first 17 holes on another idyllic day on the Mediterranean course in four-under. That disappointing finish, though, dropped him down into a share of 18th on eight-under, nine shots off the lead, held by China’s Haotong Li.
“My tee shot there at 18 almost landed on the 17th rather than the 18th and I have to do a better job than that,” added Knox, who came into this event sitting 12th in the Race to Dubai – aiming to become the first Scot since Paul Lawrie in 2012 to end a European Tour campaign in the top 10 – after signing for a 69. “It was just hopeless.”
The Invernesian had revealed earlier in the week how a pep talk from his wife, Andrea, after a disappointing opening effort had helped him go out and shoot 66 in the second round. Would it be the same again? “I hope so because I blinkin’ need it,” admitted the Irish Open champion. “I have got to start feeling better over a shot like that at the last. I have 70 yards wide of grass to hit my tee shot and it’s no excuse to miss so far left like I did.”
Knox’s chances of a second Rolex Series success of the year are now very slim. A top-10 finish, though, is still a possibility. That would come in handy given that he is heading to Greece for a holiday next week instead of playing in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa before teeing up in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the following week.
“I hope there’s a low one in my bag as the weather is so nice, and you feel like if you hit the fairway you should be able to birdie every hole out there,” said Knox. “My wedge game is great and if I can get within a wedge I can knock it inside 10 feet.
“But I have to start feeling better over shots. The difference when you are playing great is that you don’t doubt yourself. You feel amazing over the ball and with your swing, and I am just not quite there at the moment. Everything seems a little harder.”
Nothing seemed hard at all for Li as the 23-year-old carded a bogey-free 63, tying the lowest score of his career, for a 17-under-par total of 196 and a three-shot lead over defending champion Justin Rose and France’s Alexander Levy, with 2016 winner Thorbjorn Olesen a stroke further back. Li lit up his day around the turn, chipping in at the ninth before holing an 8-iron from 173 yards for an eagle-2 at the tenth.
“I have definitely got a lot of confidence from Dubai,” admitted the leader, referring to how he birdied four of the last six holes to edge out his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic in January. “Since then, I’ve been playing a lot of big events, which has built my confidence.”
Needing to retain his title to reclaim the world No 1 spot from Brooks Koepka, Rose found water three times in his 69. “But I still shot 69, so there’s some good stuff still happening,” said the Englishman in taking a positive tone heading into the last circuit, which sees Stephen Gallacher start out in joint-53rd on one-under after a second straight 71.