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Plucky Scot seizes his chance

( Updated: 2015-11-09 17:18

Plucky Scot seizes his chance

Russell Knox wins the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions tournament. Photo provided to China Daily

Russell Knox, who had started out as a seventh alternate for the WGC-HSBC Champions, swallowed hard on the 18th tee. He was three up on Kevin Kisner, Danny Willett and Ross Fisher and set to win the WGC-HSBC championship, his first Tour title.

The 18th is fraught with danger and the Scot must have known that Marc Warren, his compatriot, had taken a watery nine at the hole in his Friday 81. As it was, he kept his cool, hitting up short of the lake in two and knocking his third safely aboard the green. Two putts later and he was picking up the first prize of $1.4 million.

"It was a massive accomplishment for me," he said with a bemused shake of the head. "You're never quite sure that you'll ever win and to finish at the top of a field like this is a dream come true." (For the record, the field included Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.)

Kisner closed with a birdie to finish at -18 to the winner's -20, while Danny Willett and Ross Fisher tied for third on -17.

Knox's 15th hole was crucial. His second shot had picked its way through the greenside bunkers before settling on the back of the green. There was a long putt ahead but, with his judgment of distance still intact amid the mounting pressure, the 30-year-old left himself with nothing more than a tap-in for par.

He saw the 12-footer he holed for a birdie at the 16th as even more crucial. "It's three years since I putted like I did this week," he said. "Normally, my putting is horrendous."

His wife, Andrea, had made no less of a contribution to his win than his putter in that she was the one who had sorted out his visa papers when they heard at the 11th hour that he might get into the tournament.

Knox had made a bold decision on Saturday evening. Where Kisner and Branden Grace had decided to play the 18th hole in the half dark, he had elected to wait till this morning.

He had a birdie sandwiched between his two breakfasts and it had served as a huge fillip: "It was a great decision not to play 18 yesterday. I was getting tight and the day was getting dark. My caddie said 'No' and I said 'OK'.

He played the remaining hole over and over as he lay in his bed and visualized precisely the same 92 yard third shot that he would have. "Making that birdie was huge in terms of momentum," he said. "I was way calmer after that."

After explaining that he had had an amateur career in Scotland which had been "devoid of highlights", Knox attended the University of Jacksonville because it promised rather more in the way of sunshine than Scotland.

He got the sun he craved and also a first-class coach in Mike Flemming, who died a couple of years ago. "I knew straightaway that he was a perfect match for me."

Now he is going to look into adding a European Tour card to his PGA Tour playing rights and trying for a Ryder Cup berth.

The Sheshan locals, as you would expect, were seeing their player, Hao Tong Li, as an out and out winner. The 20-year-old had an opening round of 68, but in the final round he made back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th to haul himself to 15 under par and comfortably inside the top ten. For sure, his deeds had plenty to do with the record crowd over the week of 34,790 "Man did he have heart," said Spieth, who finished on the same 15-under mark as his Chinese playing companion. "What he did was unbelievable."

Li's result more than matched his expectations, while it was no less of a triumph for HSBC who were among the first of the sponsors to recognize how the game in China was ripe for growth.

Having started the Champions in 2005, they became involved with juniors via the China Golf Association two years later.

"Hao Tong, " said Giles Morgan, the Global head of Sponsorship and Events, "is one of our own. "He was introduced to the game as a youngster and graduated through the ranks of the HSBC China Golf Association junior program.

"Our vision was to have a player finish in the top 20 inthe first decade."

They were happy to accept a share of seventh place in the 11th year.

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