Russell Knox claims Irish Open after stunning finish

The Scot pipped Ryan Fox in a playoff after a dramatic day at Ballyliffin in Donegal

Russell Knox celebrates his winning putt on the 18th after winning the Irish Open on a playoff. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Russell Knox celebrates his winning putt on the 18th after winning the Irish Open on a playoff. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

There’s the orthodox way, and then there’s the unorthodox way. How about sinking a 40-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to get into a play-off . . . . and, then, replicating the feat in sudden death? Russell Knox, a Scot with an eye for the dramatic, inflicted such killer blows on New Zealander Ryan Fox to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open over the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin Golf Club, a victory that also embellished his Ryder Cup ambitions.

If we’d come into the final round expecting a procession, with South Africa’s Erik Van Rooyen cushioned by a four-stroke lead, what materialised on the rolling sand hills was nothing of the sort: as the springbok stumbled, Knox and Fox moved with stealth to the head of affairs. Knox’s monster birdie on the last gave him a 66 for 14-under-par 274, while Fox - who missed a 10-footer for birdie on the closing hole - shot 68 to tie him.

Then the real drama, and Knox - a player of calibre who won the WGC-HSBC Champions (2015) and the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour in 2016 - returned to the 452 yards Par 4 18th, a hole which had wrecked many a scorecard through the four days, to again conquer it.

And just as he had done in regulation, it was via an unorthodox route, this time (the ball from his tee-shot somehow skipping over the bunker to finish on a downslope) playing his approach beyond the hole and rolling in another 40-foot putt to huge acclaim from those among the 27,055 final day crowd who had managed to find vantage points around the green.

Ryan Fox watches as his putt to win in normal time stays out. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters
Ryan Fox watches as his putt to win in normal time stays out. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

As Van Rooyen’s express ran out of steam in his quest for a breakthrough tour win, others manoeuvred into the frame. Jon Rahm, the defending champion, suffered a triple-bogey on his second hole but manfully fought back with some stellar golf - covering the remaining 16 holes in nine-under, including a run of four successive birdies to close - to post a number (-12) in the clubhouse, while his compatriot Jorge Campillo then equalled the course record 65 to set the target on 13-under.

It was to prove a case of what might have been for the Spaniards, however. Instead, it was Knox and Fox who stayed on course down the home stretch, with the battle only won in extra holes. Knox sank his long putt, Fox’s agonisingly lipped out.

For Knox, who’d previously lost his only two play-offs on the PGA Tour (in the 2014 Honda Classic and to Graeme McDowell in the 2015 Mayakoba Classic), the win earned him a €998,425 payday and the famous Waterford Crystal Trophy as moved back into the world’s top-50 (from 87th), while Fox’s consolation was a cheque for €665,614 and a place in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Zander Lombard and Andy Sullivan claimed the other two exemptions.

Knox - who’d finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy at The K Club in 2016 - said of his putting masterclass: “That’s why you play golf, to hole a putt like that on the last hole. The adrenaline just comes out and it’s the best feeling in the world to be honest . . . . it was obviously a putt that you’re going to miss way more times than you make, and for me to have made it twice in a row, I’m very lucky.”

Once ranked as high as 18th in the world, but who had dropped to 137th at the end of May, Knox’s upsurge in form - having finished second in France last week and winning here - has come after a period where he lost confidence and was also tinkering with equipment changes: “I knew starting this year, I’d played good golf and I knew that eventually, something about was going to happen.”

Finally, if a little belatedly, McIlroy’s putter behaved: he’d taken 34, 32 and 30 putts in turn through the first three rounds, but only needed the TaylorMade blade 27 times in the final round. Some night-time putting sessions in front of a mirror and, pertinently, a video collage from former PGA Tour player Brad Faxon - which landed in his inbox on Sunday morning - aided his putting.

Rory McIlroy throws a ball to the crowd as he leaves the 18th green. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Rory McIlroy throws a ball to the crowd as he leaves the 18th green. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“(Brad) sent me a couple of videos of my body language after all my missed putts this week. So it was a good little reminder that attitude is very important out there on the greens and it seemed to help,” said McIlroy, who insisted there were no technical issues with his putting method.

The Northern Irishman - in his last of four years as tournament host - finished with a 71 for 286 in tied-28th position and plans to attend the tennis at Wimbledon before knuckling down to get ready for the season’s next Major.

Of the improvement in his putting in the final round, he added: “”I feel like I’m on a good path with that. I don’t feel like I need to change anything. If I putt for four days at Carnoustie like I did today, I’d be happy.”

Collated finals scores & totals in the European Tour Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted By The Rory Foundation, Ballyliffin GC, Inishowen, County Donegal (Britain unless stated, Irish in bold, par 72)

274 Ryan Fox (Nzl) 67 69 70 68, Russell Knox 71 69 68 66 (won at first play-off hole)

275 Jorge Campillo (Spa) 70 71 69 65

276 Jon Rahm (Spa) 74 69 67 66, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa) 71 65 66 74

279 Andy Sullivan 73 72 65 69, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 72 69 70 68, Danny Willett 68 70 69 72, Zander Lombard (Rsa) 70 68 72 69

280 Matthieu Pavon (Fra) 68 68 73 71, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra) 71 70 68 71

281 Peter Uihlein (USA) 70 70 70 71, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 69 68 69 75

282 Chris Wood 70 71 74 67, Alexander Bjork (Swe) 69 73 71 69, Ashley Chesters 68 73 73 68, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 69 74 68 71, Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn) 69 72 72 69

283 Adrien Saddier (Fra) 68 76 69 70, Mikko Ilonen (Fin) 70 72 71 70, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa) 72 68 73 70, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 72 70 72 69, Lee Westwood 68 71 70 74

284 Sam Horsfield 69 69 74 72, Matthew Nixon 72 69 73 70, George Coetzee (Rsa) 71 71 69 73

285 Julian Suri (USA) 76 67 72 70

286 Oliver Fisher 74 68 71 73, Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 70 73 72 71, David Drysdale 76 69 70 71, Robert Rock 68 77 69 72, Dean Burmester (Rsa) 71 70 72 73, Romain Wattel (Fra) 72 72 75 67, Shane Lowry (Irl) 72 70 74 70, Adrian Otaegui (Spa) 69 74 74 69, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 72 73 70 71

287 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa) 71 71 72 73, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 75 68 71 73, Aaron Rai 72 71 72 72

288 Thomas Aiken (Rsa) 71 73 72 72, Richie Ramsay 70 74 74 70, Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 71 73 73 71 , Paul Dunne (Irl) 73 72 72 71, David Horsey 74 69 72 73, Darren Fichardt (Rsa) 72 72 70 74, Scott Jamieson 69 74 74 71, Renato Paratore (Ita) 75 67 75 71, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 73 72 73 70

289 Haydn Porteous (Rsa) 73 71 73 72, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 73 70 71 75, James Morrison 73 70 74 72, Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 74 71 73 71, Peter Hanson (Swe) 71 73 72 73, Adam Bland (Aus) 76 69 71 73, Marc Warren 70 74 72 73, Jeunghun Wang (Kor) 74 70 72 73, Wade Ormsby (Aus) 70 73 76 70, Nacho Elvira (Spa) 69 74 76 70

290 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 70 73 73 74, Thomas Bjorn (Den) 73 71 74 72, Daniel Brooks 74 71 75 70, Matthew Southgate 72 71 73 74, Simon Thornton (Irl) 72 70 74 74

291 Ricardo Gouveia (Prt) 73 71 75 72, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 72 72 76 71, Julien Guerrier (Fra) 76 69 74 72, Gregory Bourdy (Fra) 71 73 76 71, Jin-ho Choi (Kor) 69 74 78 70

292 Felipe Aguilar (Chi) 72 71 74 75, Brandon Stone (Rsa) 74 70 71 77, Bradley Dredge 72 73 75 72

293 Paul Waring 71 71 77 74, Andrew Dodt (Aus) 74 71 74 74

294 Andres Romero (Arg) 70 75 78 71

295 Charlie Ford 73 72 71 79

297 Jens Dantorp (Swe) 72 71 77 77

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