Russell Knox to forget Ryder Cup for Scottish Open tilt
SCOTLAND'S Russell Knox admits he has been distracted by thoughts of a Ryder Cup debut as he looks to become the most local hero possible in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Knox is relatively unknown on the European Tour after leaving his native Inverness to attend Jacksonville University on a golf scholarship, but his runners-up finish in the Irish Open in May elevated him to a career-high 23rd in the world.
Combined with two second places on the PGA Tour, that raised the prospect of qualifying for the European team which will seek a record fourth straight victory against the United States in September, even though the biggest win of his career will not count.
Knox was not a European Tour member when he triumphed in the HSBC Champions event last November, when the first prize of £900,000 would have taken him top of the Ryder Cup standings. And although he subsequently paid the £500 fee to take up membership, he cannot retrospectively claim the points from Shanghai to boost his hopes of claiming one of the nine automatic qualifying places.
"I've been thinking about it too much to be honest," Knox said in a pre-tournament press conference at Castle Stuart.
"After finishing second in Ireland, I maybe expected to keep going and play really good the next few weeks after that and it just didn't quite happen. It's all to play for now. I have nothing to lose, everything to gain. If I play good this next month or so, I'm going to have a great chance to play my way onto the team or be right there for a potential pick."
Knox reluctantly turned down an invitation to play in the Scottish Open the last time it was staged at Castle Stuart in 2013, feeling he had to concentrate on securing his PGA Tour card instead. But the Florida-based 31-year-old finished 27th on his debut the following year at Royal Aberdeen and was 10th at Gullane last year, where he learnt during the pre-tournament pro-am he would make his Open debut at St Andrew's following the withdrawal of defending champion Rory McIlroy through injury.
"It's always nice to come home to Inverness," the world number 27 added.
"I can't wait to play this week. I've been looking forward to this for a long time. Probably four or five years, to be honest. I hope to see a lot of old friends that I haven't seen in a long time. Playing with McIlroy in the Irish Open, if I could get half the support that he received there in Ireland, I'd be thrilled. It would be an honour to get in the mix with a chance to win obviously. But either way, it's going to be incredible.
"Growing up, my dad used to take us down to Gleneagles to watch the Scottish Open. This will be my third now I've played in and getting to play here at Castle Stuart and Inverness is an unbelievable feeling. It's crazy. The whole journey has been crazy the last couple of years. I just hope I never wake up and it keeps going."
Former world number one Luke Donald won a rain-shortened event at Castle Stuart in 2011, but admits he needs to rediscover his previously deadly short game to begin climbing the rankings again: "I feel my ball-striking has been very close to the levels I was in 2011," the world number 83 said.
"My scoring clubs haven't been quite as good, which was obviously a big part in my success when I was number one in the world. Last week in France, I think I hit close to 70 per cent of greens in regulation on a pretty tough golf course, but I just didn't score well enough. I didn't hole enough putts, I wasn't quite good enough from 100 yards and in.
"I'm looking for a run of good events, maybe a breakout win just to get, not the belief, but a little bit of the confidence back. I certainly lost some of that when I went through a swing change that didn't really pan out the way I had hoped, but I feel it's a only a matter of time before the results start turning around."