As the defending champion this week, Russell Knox already has his place in the Irish Open hall of fame but the way the Scot sealed victory at Ballyliffin last year means a line in the record books will never do it justice.
Consecutive, virtually identical 40ft putts at the last — one on the 72nd hole, the other to secure a play-off victory over New Zealand’s Ryan Fox — made for a remarkable conclusion to a spectacularly successful Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Donegal 12 months ago.
Knox has not grown tired of reliving the moment. “Yeah, it was a crazy ending to the tournament that fortunately I was on the good end of,” he said yesterday in Lahinch.
“To hole a par in the last hole to post whatever score it was eventually making the play-off is obviously an Irish Open I’ll never forget.
“And to somehow walk it again is obviously a dream come true. To hole a putt in any tournament to win, I’ll just never forget the whole atmosphere, the crowd, everything, the cheers when the putts went in, it’s kind of a pinch-yourself moment.”
The US-based Scot had been knocking on the door in this tournament before then, claiming a share of second place behind Rory McIlroy at the K Club in 2016. Ballyliffin was a different challenge to the parkland Palmer Course in Kildare and though Lahinch continues the links theme from 2018, Knox, 34, sees a lot of differences further south on the Clare coast. Knox said:
Lahinch is a great track. It’s very lengthy, very similar to some of the courses I grew up playing in the north of Scotland. A lot of blind shots, which some people might not like it
“But, like I said, I grew up playing similar courses. So it’s kind of a different fun and unique challenge. But there’s some excellent holes. Fairly tight. You have to drive the ball very well. And definitely a course which is going to test all of us this week.”
By his own admission, Knox has not produced the sort of golf this season that earned him his second European Tour victory 12 months ago. Nor has it been a struggle for the world number 72.
“It’s been kind of a strange year. There have been no major fireworks, I guess would be the way to put it. I think every aspect of my game feels very good. And I’ve been driving well. I think recently I’ve been putting great for the last month or two.
“There’s been no really glaring weakness. Just try to put it all together for four days.
“I’m happy about not having missed very many cuts (only two in 16 starts) but I have to turn those into finishes somehow and obviously finishing in the 20s or 30s just means that I’ve had one kind of bad day or just not quite being clicking on all cylinders.
“But I’ve been fortunate in my career in the last 10 years or so that every year I’ve gotten on a little roll and obviously we all know it can happen at any time. So let’s hope it starts right here.”