Saturday 27 December 2014

Augusta expert Knox to help McIlroy's quest for Masters

Phil Casey

Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Augusta member Jeff Knox after their round at the 2014 Masters. Knox says he has offered McIlroy his help ahead of next year's tournament. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Augusta member Jeff Knox after their round at the 2014 Masters. Knox says he has offered McIlroy his help ahead of next year's tournament. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Augusta member Jeff Knox has vowed to help newly crowned British Open champion Rory McIlroy win a Green Jacket and become just the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam.

Speaking after claiming his third Major title at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy said he would consider playing practice rounds with Knox, who was his marker in the third round earlier this year and beat him by one shot.

And Knox said yesterday that he could save McIlroy a couple of shots which might make all the difference to his bid to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four Major titles.

"We corresponded on that after the Masters and, hopefully, that will work out," Knox said. "I'm not sure he needs a lot of my help, he's the No 2 player in the world, but I am happy to be able to help in any way I can.

"We have left it open-ended, the ball is in his court, but I have his address and I will drop him a note of congratulations on winning the Open."

Rounds of 71 and 77 at Augusta National in April meant McIlroy made the cut on the mark of four-over-par and, as the odd man out of the 51 players left in the field, had to play with a marker on Saturday.

Two-time former Georgia amateur champion Knox had that enviable role and although McIlroy shot 71 with three birdies in the last four holes, Knox – who holds the course record of 61 from the members' tees – beat him by a single shot, despite a bogey on the 18th. Speaking after lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday, McIlroy said: "I'll be going into Augusta next year pretty confident... if I can just figure out the greens a little bit more.

"What really helped me last year was playing with Jeff Knox in the third round. He's the best I've ever seen on Augusta's greens."

Knox added: "I might have to take a couple of trips up before it starts next year and have a couple of practice rounds with him. He had some mighty nice things to say about me and I found him such a likeable guy who was relaxed and confident about his game, but at the same time able to make me feel comfortable.

"We hit it off and enjoyed each other's company. I watched some of the Open and was so happy for him to get that third Major.

"He is so deserving in my mind. I think the future of golf is in good hands with young guys like Rory, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler."

McIlroy joked in April that he hoped Knox would three-putt the 18th so they could finish level, but Knox said: "I've often thought about three-putting, but not then!

"I think, in general, there are a couple of greens out there you have to be careful with, or know they break a different way than it might appear. I know that place pretty well and if I can just help him (save) half a shot a day that could be the difference. I would love to help him win a Green Jacket."

Knox has played with a number of other high-profile players down the years, including Spanish pair Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez and two-time winner Bubba Watson when he was defending champion in 2013.

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If an odd number of players makes the cut next year he will be called upon again, but said: "I hope it's not with Rory. I hope he's in the last group."

McIlroy was unable to show off the Claret Jug to Northern Ireland's political leaders yesterday, admitting it needed a good clean after a big night out celebrating.

The famous trophy was nowhere to be seen as the 25-year-old had an informal chat with Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle.

"I am sorry I don't have the Claret Jug, it's not going everywhere with me," he said.

"It actually needs a bit of a clean after last night. It's an amazing trophy and something that I am obviously very proud of and, hopefully, there are many more to come."

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