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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 18 October, 2019

Knox the Irish Open champion as he outguns Fox in Ballyliffin play-off

The Scot drained two monster putts to claim his first Tour win since 2016.

Knox celebrates the winning putt.
Knox celebrates the winning putt.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Adam McKendry reports from Ballyliffin

RUSSELL KNOX IS the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion after he defeated Ryan Fox in a sudden-death playoff at Ballyliffin.

In a stunning, edge of the seat finish, Knox holed a 25-foot putt on the 72nd hole to finish at 14-under and put himself into the play-off before then draining an almost identical putt in the play-off to win it.

Fox failed to convert chances from within 10 feet on the 17th and 18th to win it outright, before then missing another on the play-off hole to keep it going, but he will settle for second place and a spot at Carnoustie in the Open.

It’s the Scotsman’s first win since the 2016 Travelers Championship and it will give him a massive lift in both the world rankings — where he is currently 87th — and in the Ryder Cup standings too.

Overnight leader Erik van Rooyen fell apart, throwing away his four-shot lead in the final four holes of the front nine, and he never really recovered, finishing in a tie for fourth on 12-under.

Defending champion Jon Rahm could have won it as well as a triple bogey on the second was all that stood between him and back-to-back wins as he also finished 12-under.

The best round of the day went to Spaniard Jorge Campillo, who shot a seven-under 65 to finish in solo third, while South Africa’s Zander Lombard and England’s Andy Sullivan took the other two Open spots on offer.

None of the local players were ever in contention, and indeed only two finished under par in Shane Lowry (-2) and Rory McIlroy (-1), with Graeme McDowell and Paul Dunne level, and Simon Thornton at +2.

But the day of course belongs to Knox, who in many ways sailed under the radar right until the end as others made moves around him.

Rory McIlroy on the 9th hole Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He kicked off his day with three pars before an eagle at the par-five fourth got him going, and he added a birdie on the sixth to make the turn three-under for the day as overnight leader Van Rooyen collapsed.

The South African birdied the fourth, but he bogeyed the sixth with a three-putt before adding bogeys on the seventh and ninth after a wild drive to head onto the back nine in a tie for the lead.

For a long time it was Fox who led, the New Zealander rattling off three consecutive birdies at the 11th, 12th and 13th before a bogey at the 14th derailed his momentum.

Campillo set the clubhouse lead at 13-under, before first Knox beat it by birdieing the 15th and raking home that mammoth putt on the 18th, and a birdie at the 17th saw Fox alongside him, although he was inches from winning it with his birdie putt on the last.

Van Rooyen, meanwhile, added just one bogey and a birdie on the back nine as he failed to close the gap, and once his second shot into the last didn’t drop, the playoff pairing was confirmed.

Back up the 18th they went and, after finding an almost identical spot on the green, history was to repeat itself for Knox as he slammed in the birdie putt, and when Fox’s cruelly horseshoed out, the Scot was free to take the adoring cheers of the crowd.

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