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