A pep talk from his wife – her sister, too – helped Russell Knox leap up the leaderboard in the second round of the Turkish Airlines Open, though it will require the same again for the next two days if the Scot is to have a chance of stopping Justin Rose from returning to world No 1 with a successful title defence in Belek.
Rose holds a two-shot lead at the halfway stage after carding a second successive 65 at Regnum Carya for a 12-under-par total, with the chasing pack in the $7 million Rolex Series event being led by two of his compatriots, Danny Willett and Tom Lewis, as well as Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2016 winner at the same venue.
On a day when the overnight leader, Irishman Paul Dunne, slipped back following a 71, Knox took route 66 to move into joint 17th on six under, attributing an effort that contained six birdies, including three on the spin at the start of the round, to his wife, Andrea, and her older sister, Maria, who have joined up with him on the Mediterranean coast following a visit to Istanbul earlier in the week.
“They gave me a pep talk last night,” revealed Knox of their reaction to an opening effort that was bereft of inspiration before he birdied three holes in a row on the back nine to salvage a 70. “They were like ‘that wasn’t very good, so get on with it’. It worked. I got off to a flying start. I played much better. I made one bogey and that was a bit of a brain fart.”
Mexican-born Andrea is a former tennis professional, having played on the secondary WTA circuit for a spell, and isn’t scared to tell Knox some home truths. “That’s the reason we get on so well,” he added, laughing. “She’s certainly not a cheerleader. Well, she is, she’s the most supportive wife I could ever have, but she’s a tough one on me. Of all my family, she’s the one who says it like it is. And I need that. I respect that. There’s no shoulder to cry on.
“She’s been around this scene for so long. She’s seen the best of the best and when she sees me not doing well she’s like ‘c’mon now’. Every week she’s pretty beneficial. Starting out [as a pro] I didn’t take it that seriously, but she was telling me to get going.”
The watching Andrea would have been proud of how he rounded off his second day’s work by saving par at the tenth, the toughest hole on the course. “The best up and down of my life,” said Knox having seen his second shot at the par 4 kick into the trees. “I channelled my inner Seve [Ballesteros] I guess,” he added. “I was fortunate I had a shot from the pine straw and just nipped it to a foot. It looked like I knew what I was doing.”
Trying to make up six shots on Rose is a tough ask when the Englishman is in this sort of form, but Knox is looking forward to the weekend. “My iron game is usually my strength and if I’m in the fairway on this course then you can attack,” he said. “It will be all about the driver. If I drive it well, I’ll have loads of chances. If I don’t then I won’t.”
Rose is determined to keep his foot to the board over the final two circuits. “I can’t afford to stand still,” he insisted, having dropped his only shot in two days after pulling his tee shot at the tenth into the water.
Lewis catapulted himself into contention with a 63, the best score of the week and only one outside Olesen’s course record, while Willett is chasing his first title triumph since becoming Masters champion in 2016.
“The body is in the best place it’s been in probably five or six years and the golf game is going along with it,” said Willett. “I can get up and have 16-hour days if I want. Well, I can’t because I’ve two kids, but the fact the body is able to if I wanted to is great. It’s more that the energy levels are still high at the end of the day because your body is not knackered from playing 18 holes and that used to be the case.
“It was like Humpty Dumpty: every time you finished playing you’ve got to put him back together again, rest up and then try to go again tomorrow. It’s nice that we can put more time in and it’s a game of practice; the more you practise the better chance you give yourself.”
Stephen Gallacher, the other player flying the Saltire along with Knox, sits joint 45th on one under following a par-71. “I didn’t play too well,” he admitted. “I could have squeezed a couple more shots out, but it was a bit of a scramble all day.”