Scotland's Knox Enjoys Luck of Irish with Brilliant Putts to Win at Ballyliffin

By: | Mon 09 Jul 2018 | Comments


SCOTLAND’S Russell Knox holed a huge putt on the first hole of a playoff to defeat New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and claim the Irish Open in dramatic fashion. Earlier, the Scot had holed a 40-footer on the same green for a birdie that turned out to be good enough to tie Fox at 14 under par.

Minutes after Knox had holed his putt on the 72nd green the New Zealander put his approach to 10 feet, leaving himself a golden opportunity to take the title by a shot. However, he was unable to convert the chance and went on to lose the fourth Rolex Series event of the season when the pair played the hole again.

Knox closed the tournament with a magnificent round of 66 at the fabulous Ballyliffin Golf Club (Watch Course VLOG), which turned out to be a wonderful venue. He started the day six shots off the lead.

“To make a putt like that, it's a dream come true,” he said. “It's so hard to win tournaments. The way I managed to do it, holing those two long putts, it was just my time. I'm just lucky to win one of these massive events.”

Knox now has a Rolex Series win to add to his WGC-HSBC Champions crown from 2015 and continues his fine form after finishing in a tie for second at last week's HNA Open de France. It also offers some redemption on Irish soil after the 33-year-old finished second to Rory McIlroy at this event in 2016. The 33-year-old is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour but has struggled recently. He will now head to Carnoustie full of confidence and has thrown his hat in the ring for a place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team.

For Fox, who is one of the longest hitters on the European Tour, it is a fifth top-10 finish in Rolex Series events and he has the consolation of securing a place at the Open Championship, 12 months after achieving the same feat at this event.

“I hit two great putts on the 18th - one grazed the edge and one came back at me,” he said. “I'm happy, I hit the shots I wanted to down the stretch, felt comfortable out there and it was close. Had one putt been an inch ether way I'd still be out there now or even with the trophy in my hand but well done to Russ, he played some great golf today.”

English Ryder Cup player Andy Sullivan and South African Zander Lombard are also heading to Carnoustie after claiming the two other places available for the leading players in the top 10 not already exempt.

Spaniard Jorge Campillo finished one shot out of the playoff after a closing 65, one shot clear of countryman and defending champion Jon Rahm and overnight leader Erik van Rooyen.

Lombard and Sullivan were at nine under alongside Thorbjørn Olesen and Danny Willett, a shot clear of French duo Raphaël Jacquelin and Matthieu Pavon. Willett will take much from the week. He has endured a miserable time since winning The Masters but is now fit again and is finally playing well.

South African Van Rooyen entered the day with a four-shot lead and while he birdied the fourth, bogeys at sixth, seventh and ninth saw him being caught by Campillo at the turn.

The 32 year old holed an 18-footer on the first, added another birdie on the next and then put his second to eight feet on the fourth to set up an eagle. A 30-footer on the eighth and another birdie on the ninth had him in a share of the lead but it would soon be a four-way tie.

Fox bogeyed the first but holed a 30-footer for eagle on the fourth and when he birdied the 11th, he was at the top of the leaderboard.

Knox also eagled the fourth from just six feet and he added birdies from six and 15 feet on the sixth and 10th. A bogey followed on the next but a 20-footer on the 12th had him in the leading group at 12 under.

Fox birdied the 12th and put his third to three feet on the par five 13th to lead by two but he bogeyed the next, with Knox joining him at the top after a tap-in at the 15th.

Campillo sandwiched a birdie on the 13th with bogeys on the 11th and 16th but an eagle from 40 feet on the 17th had him in a share of the lead, where he was soon joined by Van Rooyen who birdied the 13th.

Van Rooyen bogeyed the 14th and Fox hit the front on his own with a birdie on the 17th before Knox's late drama.

A triple-bogey on the second looked to have ended Rahm's chances but he birdied the next two and was back in red figures on the day when he chipped in for an eagle on the sixth. Six pars followed but the Spaniard birdied five of his last six holes, hitting the pin on the last when an eagle would have seen him share the clubhouse lead.

Dane Olesen registered a closing 68, Lombard and Sullivan both signed for rounds of 69 and 2016 Masters Tournament Willett got round in level par 72.

Jacquelin and Pavon both carded closing rounds of 71.

For tournament host McIlroy it was a desperately disappointing week. He played some magnificent golf but his putter was stone cold and he will head to Carnoustie desperately hoping to rediscover his touch on the greens. He closed with a 71 and finished the week on two under par, 12 adrift of Knox and Fox.

PGA TOUR

Kevin Na ended a near-seven year wait for his second PGA Tour victory thanks to a brilliant final round of 64 to win the Military tribute at The Greenbrier by five shots over 54-hole leader Kelly Kraft.

Na, who is a real Marmite golfer (you either hate his slow play or you love the determination he demonstrates) birdied six of his first 10 holes to open up a big lead over Kraft on the Old White TPC in West Virginia. The 34-year-old Na cruised home from there and finished at 19-under 261. Na's only previous PGA Tour success came in Las Vegas in October 2011.

Kraft shot 70 and finished second at 14 under. Brandt Snedeker and Jason Kokrak tied for third at 13 under. Snedeker had a 64 and Kokrak shot 67. Kraft, Snedeker, Kokrak and Austin Cook earned spots in The Open at Carnoustie. The leading four players not already exempt from the top-12 finishers qualified.

Despite winning only two titles, Na has earned more than $27m in prize money, putting him 40th in the all-time list.

Na waited eight years for his first win and in the seven years since then has endured six runner-up finishes

“There have been a lot of heartbreaks,” he said. “I tried not to think about winning. Obviously it seems like I've always tried too hard. I mean, how do you say you tried too hard? What is the difference, the fine line between trying too hard and letting it happen?

“Definitely thinking about that trophy. I was definitely thinking about winning. But I was trying to stay in the moment. … I just felt great. I just felt relaxed.”

“The greens were rock hard,” Na said. “Some of these pins you couldn't get to. But I hit some great shots, and the putter was just hot. It was just one of those days that I felt great over the ball, and everything was going in.”

When he made a five -footer for par at the 14th hole to preserve what was then a four-stroke advantage, Na felt like he could could see the finish line clearly. He pumped his fist in satisfaction because “I felt like that was the key putt to an easy walk up 18.” And so it proved.


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