SIT­U­A­TION’S VA­CA­TION

Knox rev­el­ling in three-week break from US pres­sure pot as he spear­heads Scots’ crack at Gul­lane glory

Sunday Mail (UK) - - Sports - Bernie McGuire

Rus­sell Knox heads home this week with the hopes of a na­tion rest­ing on his shoul­ders.

For the 33-year-old, though, tee­ing up in Scot­land is a break from the pres­sure pot rather than a re­turn to it.

Not since Colin Montgomerie at Loch Lomond in 1999 has the Scot­tish Open had a homegrown cham­pion.

Florida-based Knox is per­haps the best hope of rem­e­dy­ing that run of woe af­ter fol­low­ing up a tied sec­ond at the French Open with an Ir­ish Open as­sault that reaches its con­clu­sion in Done­gal to­day.

Mak­ing the half­way cut in 17 of 22 PGA Tour events this sea­son means he’s been able to do so with purely prizes rather than points to worry about.

The In­ver­ness-born player started the week 67th in the money-spin­ning FedEx Cup standings, well in­side the 125 who will re­tain their card for next sea­son.

So he’ll be able to walk on to the first at Gul­lane on Thurs­day without fears for his fu­ture – only a fo­cus on win­ning his sec­ond Euro­pean Tour ti­tle three years af­ter his first at the WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons ti­tle in Shang­hai.

Knox, who wi l l then head to Carnoustie next week, said: “I’ve come home here to Europe feel ing no pres­sure and that’s a great feel­ing.

“Of course I’m not gain­ing any FedEx Cup points other than at The Open so I’m treat­ing my three weeks – French, Ir­ish and the Scot­tish – like a break.

“I can just go out and en­joy ev­ery minute of it.

“A first win on Euro­pean soil is still very much my goal and I showed in France if I keep bang­ing on that vic­tory door the hinges will even­tu­ally fall off.

“It would be fan­tas­tic if that was this

week at Gul­lane. But it’s just great to be back in Europe, en­joy­ing this fab­u­lous sun­shine and to be play­ing half-good.

“I’ve been think­ing about the Scot­tish Open and go­ing back to Gul­lane a lot to be hon­est.

“Af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in France, it re­ally whet my ap­petite head­ing to the Ir­ish Open then into the Scot­tish and of course The Open.

“It’s all to play for now. I have noth­ing to lose, ev­ery­thing to gain.

“The great thing too – and that was the sit­u­a­tion in France, Ire­land and now this com­ing week at Gul­lane then at Carnoustie – is they’re all links cour­ses.

“And Gul­lane and Carnoustie are go­ing to be ex­tra spe­cial as you get that big­ger ap­plause from play­ing in front of your own home crowd. That as­pect of the game has al­ways been a joy.

“As ev­ery­one knows, I grew up play­ing links golf. I just love it.

“I loved Le Na­tional while Bal­lylif­fin is sen­sa­tional and so too is Gul­lane. I just hope we get the weather we’ve been hav­ing over here of late con­tin­ues this com­ing week and into Carnoustie.”

Knox will be joined by fel­low Scots in­clud­ing States-based Martin Laird this week af­ter he was given an in­vi­ta­tion to com­pete on the East Loth­ian links.

They’ll need to get the bet­ter of 11 Ma­jor cham­pi­ons headed by 2013 Scot­tish Open win­ner Phil Mick­el­son and Masters top dog Pa­trick Reed.

Three of the past four Scot­tish Open win­ners – Rafa Cabr­era-Bello, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose – will be in the field with Euro­pean No. 1 Tommy Fleet­wood for com­pany as well.

At least this time Knox won’t have to worry about earn­ing a last-minute slot on The Open en­try list a week later.

He was first re­serve when he last headed to Gul­lane in 2015 only for a text to come through while he was play­ing in the Pro-Am.

Then world No.1 Rory McIl­roy had pulled out af­ter in­jur­ing an­kle lig­a­ments play­ing foot­ball, the pres­sure was off.

Knox’s sec­ond at Le Golf Na­tional a fort­night ago made sure he won’t need to rely on an­other last-minute favour.

The 33-year-old, who will con­test a fifth suc­ces­sive Scot­tish Open, said: “I still re­mem­ber my wife sent me a text out on the course say­ing that Rory had with­drawn.

“I was wait­ing for of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion from the R& A but then my man­ager re­ceived an email from them to say 100 per cent I am into The Open.

“I was down on the 12th hole and had a big smile on my face when I got the text. Bizarrely it was close to where I got a hole in one some years back.

“Nat­u­rally I was dis­ap­pointed for Rory and given how wel l he was play­ing he would have had a great chance to win at St An­drews.”

The only call Knox is now pray­ing for is one from Ry­der Cup cap­tain Thomas Bjorn with a de­but in the tour­na­ment

still to be achieved. Aside from a first pro vic­tory on Euro­pean soil there’s still the off-chance of a speedy re­turn to Le Golf Na­tional in Euro­pean team colours.

Knox’s rous­ing French Open re­sult not only sent him to world No.87, it took him up to 21st on the Euro­pean Ry­der Cup world points ta­ble.

It again begged the ques­tion if qual­i­fy­ing au­to­mat­i­cally for Europe’s at­tempt to take back the tro­phy in Paris was still a big goal.

Knox said: “If I con­tinue to play well this next month or so, I’m go­ing to have a great chance to play my way on to the team or be right there for a po­ten­tial pick.

“I have to go and earn it. Ev­ery­one who makes the team has made their way on. They have de­served ev­ery sec­ond of be­ing there. I played so well in France and on a very tough course – to come within a shot of mak­ing the play-off was big. It was big for my con­fi­dence and big as it qual­i­fied me for The Open. But I’m go­ing to have to do more from now on to make the team and I can’t wait to try. I sure hope I play well.” Yes­ter­day’s four-un­der 68 at Bal­lylif­fin, which left him six shots off leader Erik van Rooyen of South Africa, sug­gested his hopes can be re­alised. Knox said: “He might be six ahead but only two or three peo­ple are ahead of me so num­bers-wise it’s not that big a deal. If the guy that’s lead­ing keeps go­ing, hats off, that’s un­be­liev­able. But Sun­day is al­ways much harder.”

KISS­ING BOOTH Rose (far left, 2014), Fowler (mid­dle, 2015) and Cabr­eraBello (2017) will all be in East Loth­ian this week to line up a fresh pic­ture per­fect mo­ment at the Scot­tish

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