Russell Knox is set to play in three of the inaugural Rolex Series events on this season’s European Tour as the Scottish No 1 prepares to go all out in a bid to make next year’s Ryder Cup in Paris.
The Florida-based 31-year-old, who was controversially overlooked by Darren Clarke for a wildcard at Hazeltine last September, revealed his 2017 schedule for this side of the Atlantic as he prepared to be the sole Saltire bearer in this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.
His first trip will be to join the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose in the Rolex Series launch event – the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, where Knox will be aiming to improve on a missed cut on his debut last year.
The world No 21 is then planning to make a first appearance in the HNA French Open at the end of June so that he can get to know Le Golf National, the venue outside Paris that will host the Ryder Cup in 2018, before heading to Dundonald Links a fortnight later to be one of the main attractions in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
The planned schedule means that Knox, who forced tournament host McIlroy to conjure up some magic at the death to finish ahead of him at The K Club last season, will miss out on the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which has moved to the slot before the Scottish Open.
“Last time it stung not making the [Ryder Cup] team and I want to give it everything I can to try and make the next one,” Knox told The Scotsman. “I look forward to the process of trying to get in that team. I’m going to meet the membership requirements on the European Tour this year and next year.”
Referring to the new European captain, Dane Thomas Bjorn, he added: “We have not been in touch yet, but I am sure our paths are going to cross pretty soon and we will have a conversation. I think some of the things he has been saying so far have been good, but it all comes down to me trying to take care of my own business and playing well.
“I had a really nice run there, winning two tournaments [the WGC-HSB Champions at the end of 2015 then the Travelers Championship last August] and playing well. But I need to keep going. If I’m to make the next Ryder Cup team, I’m going to have to win again and play more good golf.”
He’s hoping that will start in Austin this week, having suffered his first mini-slump since breaking into the world’s top 25. After starting the 2017 campaign with six top-20 finishes in a row, including third in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, he’s missed the cut in three of his last four events and, on the other occasion, finished 70th in the 77-man WGC-Mexico Championship at the beginning of this month.
“These missed cuts just make me want to practice harder and play better,” insisted Knox, who has been drawn in a bracket alongside Masters champion Danny Willett, as well as American Bill Haas and Korea’s K T Kim. “I played a lot at the end of last year and also at the beginning of this year and I almost felt a run like this coming.
“I made 17 or 18 cuts in a row. I was contending almost every time I played. I knew this was going to happen and, in kind of a weird way, I’m glad it happened when it did because there is a massive spring and summer of golf ahead. I have been disappointed recently, but I need to keep going knowing that if my game can click at the right time, then big things can happen.”
Knox, who had a win, loss and a draw in his three matches 12 months ago, opens his campaign against six-time PGA Tour winner Haas, then faces Kim, winner of 18 titles worldwide, tomorrow before concluding the round-robin phase against Willett, who defends his Green Jacket in a fortnight’s time, in the first match out on Friday.
“Having missed a few cuts, I feel as though I’ve not played that much. I’m not playing in Houston next week, so it would be really nice to play well here and get through my bracket because it would be nice to get some competitive rounds under my belt,” said the Scot. “However, I’m not overly concerned as my game is close to where it needs to be. I’m going to have a good week of practice after this and hopefully I will be ready for The Masters.”
The season’s opening major can’t come quick enough for Jordan Spieth, who has admitted it will be nice to get his first visit back to Augusta National since the back-nine capitulation that opened the door for Willett out of the way. “No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having the Masters go by,” said the 2015 winner in an interview with The Dominion Post. “The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year’s finished from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.”
The top 64 in the world rankings qualify for this week’s £7.8 million event, but Open champion Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Rose have all opted not to compete, while Adam Hadwin is also an absentee due to the fact he’s getting married.