Masters: Scottish No.1 Knox believes he is a contender

Russell Knox is ready to battle it out
Russell Knox is ready to battle it out
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Russell Knox says it’s time to “hammer down” and get back to playing the golf that earned him a place among the world’s elite.

The 31-year-old is flying the Saltire along with 1988 winner Sandy Lyle in the 81st Masters, which gets underway at Augusta National today. The duo have contrasting experience when it comes to the season’s opening major – Lyle is making his 36th appearance whereas Knox is here for just the second time.

The latter was disappointed that his debut 12 months resulted in an early exit, missing the cut by two shots following rounds of 79 and 73. His form heading into this return has not been a patch on the play, either, that catapulted him into the world’s top 20 around after winning the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour last August.

But Knox is determined to use this week’s showpiece event to get things kick-started again and turn 2017 into another season to remember. “I played too much at the end of last year, which was a nice bonus for playing well throughout the year,” said Knox, who is one of the featured groups for the first two rounds with Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. “I got into a lot of tournaments that I wouldn’t have got into. I had a great stretch and I was very happy how I was playing.

“Obviously, there was going to be an eventual downside to that. So, after Hawaii (the Sony Open in January), I was always going to take two weeks off – that was always on the card.

“But then I have been disappointed how I have played the last few weeks. I just feel a bit rusty after taking time off, but I’ve got to get going now. It’s time to hammer down, play a lot more. It’s going to be busy the rest of the year, which I look forward to.”

The Scottish No.1’s best effort in six major appearances so far is joint-22nd in last year’s US PGA Championship. Making the cut is his first priority here before trying to improve on that. I would like to say I am coming here to contend and I am capable of doing that now,” he said. “But I need to beat 22nd. And I need to be up there in the top ten.

“Of course I would love to be in contention, but I have got to make the cut here, play all four days, chip away at it, and hopefully have my best finish ever.”

“A lot of the holes here fit my eye nicely. If I can drive the ball nicely, it just comes down to putting. It’s about trying to avoid three-putts as much as you can. I have worked unbelievably hard over the last year. I’ve had some success and I’ve had some setbacks.

“I’ve just got to keep trying and keep three putts off the card as last year was shocking in that respect. I’m not using the same putter as I did last year. In fact, I put it in the bag the week after this event.”

In comparison to Scotland’s paltry representation, England has a record 11 players in this week’s field, an achievement applauded by Colin Montgomerie, who is here working for the Golf Channel.

“There’s a great English representation, especially when you consider that it was 20 years since an English player had won before Danny Willett 12 months ago,” he said.

“There some guys with real heart, too, like Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who I was very impressed with when he won in Dubai at the end of last season.

“Danny Willett as well, of course. There’s guys with real potential and Ross Fisher is one of them, too. If he can putt the way he did in the WGC in Mexico and also the Match Play, then who knows.

“It’s just unfortunate that we are talking about England and not Scotland. With all respect to Sandy, we only really have one realistic representative in terms of getting into contention in Russell Knox.

“We used to have a few more in the big tournaments, the likes of Sam Torrance and Paul Lawrie, of course. We are going through a lean spell and hopefully we can come out of that soon.”