Knox rocks Ballyliffin for Dubai Duty Free Irish Open triumph

Russell Knox provided one of the most dramatic finishes of the season to roar to victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, holing two monster putts at the 18th hole and overcoming Ryan Fox in a play-off to become the fourth Rolex Series Champion of the 2018 Race to Dubai.

The Scot began the day six shots off the lead at the majestic Ballyliffin Golf Club in county Donegal and his round took flight with an eagle at the par five fourth hole. Four more birdies and a sole bogey meant he stepped onto the 18th tee with a 13 under par total, the clubhouse target which had already been set by Spain’s Jorge Campillo.

It looked like Knox might have to settle for par at best after his approach finished 35 feet from the hole on the edge of the green right in front of the packed galleries, but the 33 year old proceeded to roll it into the cup to rapturous cheers, moving him to 14 under.

New Zealander Fox could only watch from the fairway as the drama unfolded and he looked set to rain on Knox’s parade moments later after a stunning approach to the final green. His putt slipped by, however, meaning extra holes were required to separate the two.

Former WGC-HSBC Champion Knox found the rough and it looked like advantage to Fox after he smashed another huge drive down the fairway, before knocking it inside Knox’s second shot to within ten feet.

Knox had other ideas though, and from an almost identical position to his final putt in regulation play, he drained another incredible birdie putt to claim the title, becoming the first Scottish Rolex Series winner and moving to fifth in the Race to Dubai from 25th.

Fox did have a consolation prize by earning a spot in The Open Championship in two weeks’ time, while Campillo finished in outright third place. The 2017 champion Jon Rahm finished with a six under 66 to claim a share of fourth place alongside the third round leader Erik Van Rooyen of South Africa.

After his win, Knox said “That’s why you play golf, to hole a putt like that on the last hole. The adrenaline just comes out and it’s the best feeling in the world to be honest.

“I thought my chances had slipped on 17, failing to make birdie. I knew Foxy had bombed one down there. I knew my only chance was to birdie 18, and I just got it cutting on the wind into the rough and I thought, ‘oh, no, I’m going to be doomed over there’.

“But I was able to hit a good shot and get on the green, which I was thrilled with. Then I just blacked out to be honest. I stood over the putt. I read the putt and I thought, just don’t aim. Just react. I mean, I pured the putt. I remember thinking as soon as I hit it, I’ve hit it a bit firm, and it just started tracking and it dropped – unbelievable.

“Obviously this is a massive tournament. The K Club and Ballyliffin are polar opposites, obviously, but both terrific venues. I don’t know how I do so well in this event, I just get lucky. This is my week, this time of year, to play good golf, I guess. I was lucky for it to be my time.

“This is an excellent venue. Ballyliffin Golf Club was terrific. Obviously I have loved it. It was amazing. I can’t believe I’m standing here holding this trophy right now.

“Rolex is obviously a massive sponsor of the European Tour, and I’m just lucky to win one of these massive events, so thank you very much to Rolex.”