Fox in the hunt for tilt at Open
It only seems a few short months ago, when Ryan Fox stepped onto venerable St Andrews a bundle of nerves for his debut Open Championship.
Two years on, still just six years into his pro career at age 30, Fox will push his tee into the Royal Birkdale turf at 12.37am tomorrow alongside American Matt Kuchar and Scotsman Richie Ramsay feeling like he belongs.
And why wouldn’t he? In 2015 he made the cut and fired a final round 67 to finish a creditable 49th after sneaking in via final qualifying.
This time Fox arrives as one of Europe’s form players on the links after three successive top-10 finishes, in what he described as the best few weeks of his career. The second of those, a fourth-equal at the Irish Open, booked his spot at Birkdale then last weekend he had an identical finish at the Scottish Open at Dundonald in a dream July.
‘‘A couple of years ago I did play some good golf but the week was a blur and I think I’ll be a bit calmer this time and be able to enjoy myself a bit more,’’ Fox said. ‘‘I’ll aim to keep playing well but if not, I’ve had a good few weeks and I still get to play in a major, which is never a bad thing as a golfer.’’
It might not be Fox’s only major this year, either. His world ranking soared from 122nd to a career-best 95th with his Scotland performance and he knows a strong showing this weekend will see it rise further and potentially vault him into the field for the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow on August 10.
For now, Birkdale must be conquered. On the north-west coast of England, near Liverpool, it’s described as one of the world’s best links courses. All a golfer can ask for is confidence, and knowledge they’ve played well in similar conditions, which Fox has. His hectic schedule, which saw him play 72 holes in six tournaments since the start of June, might be his only question mark.
‘‘I enjoy the challenge of links golf. Obviously you’ve got to drive the ball pretty well to play, and I think we got pretty lucky in Northern Ireland where we didn’t have much wind,’’ he said on the European Tour website.
‘‘There was quite a bit of wind in Scotland and I’ve grown up with quite a bit of wind in New Zealand so I don’t mind playing in that. I prefer it to the rain.
‘‘I’d love to be up there again, that’s what we play for. It’s been a tough few weeks and I’m feeling a bit tired but I’ll rest the body and mind as best I can beforehand.’’
Shots like his ‘‘ridiculous’’ final round ace to save par after he hit his tee shot in the gorse at Dundonald gave him a boost, that he could bounce back quickly from a rough one.
In a wide open field headed by 14-1 bookmakers’ picks Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, Fox is rated in the top onethird at 125-1 with William Hill.
Compatriot Michael Hendry has a few more questionmarks after revealing a back injury had flared up this week, but the 37-year-old will tee up alongside Brian Harman and Martin Laird at 11.31pm tonight.
Hendry, the New Zealand Open champion in March and world No 110, earned his first major championship start with a runnerup finish in the Mizuno Open in May, and comes off a sixth placing at his most recent Japan Tour event where he sits 17th on the moneylist.