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Two-putt bombshell sees Knox home


When Scotland's Russel Knox nailed an almost unbelievable curving putt from all of 40 feet at the 18th at the Ballyliffen links on Sunday to tie New Zealand's Ryan Fox and force a playoff, nobody would have believed that he could do the exact same thing from almost the exact same spot in the playoff.

One of the TV commentators wryly remarked, "lightning never strikes twice" when speculating about Knox's chances of pulling off the feat, but that's exactly what the 33-year-old US-based Scott did when he dramatically snatched away victory from Fox in the Dubai Duty-free Irish Open and claimed the million-Euro first prize in this Rolex Series event.

Fox took second place with the consolation of knowing he had earned himself a place in the Open Championship later this month, Spaniard Jorge Campillo (65) finished third, a shot back, while his more famous compatriot Jon Rahm, the defending champion and World No 5, closed strongly with a 66 to tie for fourth with South Africa's luckless Erik Van Rooyen who went the other way and saw his four-shot lead at start of the day slowly crumble as he stumbled home with a 74.

But getting back to Knox; you could have been forgiven if you had believed you were watching his first stint of putting heroics on catch-up TV when he made that monster putt for the second time.

With him willing it to go down, the ball rolled to the hole on practically the same line, turning quite sharply just before it dived in. And then when it did, his celebration was also almost identical as he joyfully punched the air, high-clapped his caddy and bounded about the green.

Both Knox and Fox, the sturdily-built 31-year-old son of famed All Black flyhalf Grant Fox, closed with 14-under 274s, Knox after a 66 and Fox with a 68, but ironically Fox's finish in both the regulation 72 holes and in the first extra hole of the play-off was the very opposite off Knox's.

It may have had something to with the shockwaves left each time by Knox's extraordinary putting heroics, but the unlucky Fox, who had driven the ball straight and hard all day, once as far as 385 yards, and had missed very little on and around the greens, suddenly missed twice, to his sheer disbelief his confident 10-footer to win at the 72nd hole staying out on the high side and his seven or eight-footer at the first extra hole to keep the playoff alive rolling around the lip before deciding that it was not his time to get his first title on the European Tour and staying out.

“To make a putt like that, it's a dream come true," said Knox whose victory on Sunday followed his tie for second in the Open de France last week in the first of the trio of Rolex Series events leading up to the Open Championship in Carnoustie in two weeks time. The third will be next week's Scottish Open.

"It's so hard to win tournaments, added Knox whose first Tour win came in the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2015. "This time I managed to do it by holing those two long putts. It was just my time, I guess."

“I'm just lucky to win one of these massive events, so thank you very much to Rolex.”

Said Fox, whose second place earned him his fifth top ten in a Rolex Series event, "I hit two great putts on 18, 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 either, I'd now have the trophy in my hand or I'd still be out there, but well done to Russ, he played some great golf today.”

Along with Fox, Englishman Andy Sullivan and South African Zander Lombard will also be heading to Carnoustie after claiming the two other places available to Sunday's front-runners not already exempt for the season's third major.

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

Knox, meanwhile, also eagled the fourth and then added birdies from six and 15 feet on the sixth and tenth. He bogeyed the 11th, but a 20-footer on the 12th saw him join the leading group at 12 under.

Fox birdied the 12th and put his third just three feet from the pin on the par five 13th to take a two-shot lead with the resulting birdie.

He bogeyed the next, however, to allow Knox to join him after a tap-in birdie by the Scot at the 15th.

An eagle from 40 feet out by Campillo on the 17th enabled the Spaniard to snatch a late share of the lead which then increased to four players when Van Rooyen birdied the 13th.

But Van Rooyen was not having his happiest of days and when he next bogeyed the 14th it ended his challenge and saw Fox hit the front on his own with a birdie on the 17th.

At that moment he looked set to win, but that was before Knox stepped up and drained the first of his two 40 feet winners.

And Rory McIlroy, the Tournament host, and the bookmaker's pre-tournament favorite? What happened to him?

Well, he didn't miss the cut as has tended to do in so many recent Irish Opens, but he failed to break 70 in any of his rounds and finished well down the field at 2-under after a closing 71.

(Par 72)

274 Russell Knox (SCO) 71 69 68 66, Ryan Fox (NZL) 67 69 70 68. (Knox won the playoff at the 1st extra hole)
275 Jorge Campillo (ESP) 70 71 69 65
276 Jon Rahm (ESP) 74 69 67 66, Erik Van Rooyen (RSA) 71 65 66 74
279 Andy Sullivan (ENG) 73 72 65 69, Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN) 72 69 70 68, Danny Willett (ENG) 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
282 Chris Wood (ENG) 70 71 74 67, Alexander Bjork (SWE) 69 73 71 69, Ashley Chesters (ENG) 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 (ENG) 68 71 70 74

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Neville Leck

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