Russell Knox leads in Texas in bid to secure last-ditch Masters spot

Knox, who last played in the season’s opening major in 2017, needs to win this week’s Valero Texas Open to be heading back to Augusta National and he’s out in front after the opening circuit.

The 36-year-old opened with a seven-under-par 65 at TPC San Antonio to hold a one-shot advantage over Dane Rasmus Hojgaard, with 2019 Scottish Open champion Aaron Rai from England in a group one further back.

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Knox is bidding to emulate compatriot Martin Laird, who did the trick in 2013, by winning this event to secure the final spot up for grabs at Augusta National.

Russell Knox in action during the first round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. Picture: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

“I would love to win and get to play next week,” he said. “I know my game is good, so I’ve got to keep playing well and see if I can have a great finish.”

Is there a danger he might put too much pressure on himself over the remaining three days with next week in mind?

“No, zero,” insisted Knox, who has missed the cut in both his Masters appearances so far. “It would be the biggest bonus of the year obviously if that happened, but I’m going to try my hardest to finish first this week.”

In his bogey-free start, the two-time PGA Tour winner birdied the first, fifth and seventh before making four gains on the spin from the 12th.

“Yeah, obviously thrilled with the round,” said Knox of his day’s work. “I took care of business off the tee, which was nice. If you get offline, it can be very criminal.

“So I drove the ball well, iron play was solid again and had a couple of those momentum moments. I had chip-in on seven, good up-and-down on six, great up-and-down on nine, key parts that allowed me to kind of settle into the back nine and have some easier birdies.”

Even if he doesn’t manage to join Lyle and MacIntyre in making that drive up Magnolia Lane, Knox reckons his game is trending in the right direction again.

“It’s been more kind of the way I want to play golf,” he said. “I’ve been a little more consistent tee to green. I’m back to kind of feeling like the way I should be playing, which has been nice.

“Off the tee’s been kind of important for me. Over the last couple years just kind of got off track slightly, was hitting a few wayward tee shots.

“But I’ve worked hard with my coach, Mark McCann, and we’ve really gone back to fundamentals, got my set up correct and it just gives me the freedom to kind of swing away.

“I know it’s never going to be perfect, but the last couple months it’s really been a strength of mine again.”

On his debut in the event, MacIntyre recovered from a bogey at his opening hole to sign for a three-under 69, which left him inside the top 20.

Laird, who needs to repeat his feat from nine years ago to be heading back to Augusta National, completed a productive day for the Scots as he opened with a bogey-free 70.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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