Hot putter lifts Russell Knox to Irish Open crown

DONEGAL, IRELAND - JULY 08: Russell Knox of Scotland celebrates after a birdie on the first play off hole against Ryan Fox of Neew Zealand during the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club on July 8, 2018 in Donegal, Ireland. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Hot putter lifts Russell Knox to Irish Open crown

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Hot putter lifts Russell Knox to Irish Open crown

Russell Knox has his sights on a Ryder Cup debut after winning the $7 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. European captain Thomas Bjorn will certainly want him in Paris if he putts the way he did to win his second European Tour event.

Knox defeated New Zealand’s Ryan Fox at the first hole of a sudden death playoff when he rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt to win the $1.16 million first-place prize after the pair finished tied at 14 under.

Knox, a 33-year-old Scotsman, knew the line of the putt because he’d holed a similar length putt from almost the same location on the 72nd hole to get into the playoff. A closing 6-under 66 saw him come from six shots back after 54 holes to win on the European Tour for the first time since the 2015 WGC–HSBC Champions.

“To make a putt like that, it’s a dream come true,” Knox 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 had a great feeling on the greens. I wasn’t really aiming, I was just sort of reacting to the line.

“All the practice, all the misses, all the bad moments are taken care of with putts like that. I just remember standing over it and thought just don’t aim, just hit the putt and see what happens and I flushed the putt. Making two of them from almost the same distance is a bit of a bonus.”

The PGA Tour-based Knox moves to eighth on the European Ryder Cup points list after starting the week at 28th. The top four on that list after the Made in Denmark event automatically earn spots on Bjorn’s team.

Runner-up in the French Open the previous week got Knox into the British Open. He will also play this week’s $7 million Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane. Good results in those two events will help his Ryder Cup chances.

“I knew I needed a stretch like this,” Knox said. “To make the Ryder Cup team you have to win tournaments and this is a heck of a start. I feel like I’ve got a lot more to go. I’d love to win the Scottish Open next week but I’m not getting greedy.”

Fox was looking for his first European Tour win. He thought he’d achieved it when his 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th was tracking to the hole. But it failed to move to the left as the 31-year-old anticipated. He then lipped out a 15-foot birdie putt at the first extra hole that would have extended the playoff.

“I hit two great putts on 18, one grazed the edge and one came back at me,” Fox 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 either 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.”

Fox earned $777,770 for second place and a spot at Carnoustie as one of three players in the top 10 not exempt into the British Open. South Africa’s Zander Lombard and Andy Sullivan of England took the other two spots for finishing joint sixth.

Knox is the first Scotsman to win the Irish Open since Colin Montgomerie in 2001. He moves to fifth on the European money list from 25th at the start of the week.

The victory was even sweeter since Knox finished second to Rory McIlroy in the 2016 Irish Open at the K Club. Knox finished three shots behind after McIlroy played the last three holes in three under, thanks to a birdie at the par-5 16th and an eagle at the par-5 18thGwk

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