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May 24, 2:43 PM EDT

Russell Knox gaining confidence going into key stretch


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Russell Knox needed results before he could find confidence, and now his confidence is soaring.

Just over six months ago, Knox got in as an alternate for his first World Golf Championship, scrambled to secure a Chinese visa and wound up winning the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He has become more visible since then, only partly because of his steady play.

Knox had a one-shot lead with three holes to play in the Irish Open until Rory McIlroy hit two shots with a fairway metal that will be talked about in Ireland for years - onto the 16th green for a two-putt birdie (and a two-shot swing for the lead) and to 3 feet on the 18th hole for eagle.

"I got beat by two of the best shots I've ever seen in my life," Knox said Monday night from England, where he playing the BMW PGA Championship.

It was his third runner-up finish since Shanghai - he went straight from China to Mexico and lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell - and it moved Knox to a career-best No. 23 in the world. And he wasn't the least bit surprised.

"I've always had to prove to myself I can do it before I really feel like I can do it," Knox said. "It's been like that at all levels. After coming close a few times, then winning in Shanghai, all of a sudden I proved to myself I can do it, and I should be able to do it again. I've just kind of run with that."

His game is efficient rather than dazzling, though it's hard to beat the results.

Since missing the cut in his Masters debut, Knox has a pair of runner-up finishes and a performance at The Players Championship that brought him just as much attention for how he handled misfortune with humor and honesty. He was contending at the TPC Sawgrass when his tee shot on the island-green 17th came up a yard short. Rattled, he shanked the next one, and then put a third in the water. He made a 9 and tumbled out of sight.

He called it an "epic fail." He said he would be "terrified" hitting that shot the next day (he hit the green and three-putted for his only bogey in a final round of 66). And he earned plenty of fans by going on Twitter to say, "SHANK you very much for all the nice messages."

Knox, who has lived in Florida since playing college golf at Jacksonville University, took up European Tour membership after winning the HSBC. He was asked about the Ryder Cup that week, and it felt like a long shot. He did not get Ryder Cup points for the WGC victory because he was not yet a member.

But he faces a big stretch now - Wentworth, the Memorial, U.S. Open, Bridgestone Invitational, Scottish Open, British Open over the next eight weeks, all of them with plenty of Ryder Cup world points on offer.

"After Shanghai when I joined, I would have given me like a 25 percent chance making the team," he said. "One win is not going to get you on the Ryder Cup team. I think right now, to be honest, I'd be shocked if I didn't make the team. I feel pretty good about that. But at the same time, if I don't play well from now until selection day, I don't deserve to make the team.

"It's not what I've done in the last five or six months," he said. "It's what I do now."

And if this surge continues, the Olympics is not out of question. Knox is No. 3 in the Olympic ranking for the UK, though he most likely would have to get into the top 15 to earn a trip to Rio.

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SYMETRA RECORD: The Symetra Tour is not even a third into the season, yet Madelene Sagstrom already is in the record book.

The Swede's runner-up finish last week in the Gosling's Dark & Stormy Classic was worth $9,467 and pushed her season earnings to $103,181, breaking the money record that Cindy LaCrosse set in 15 tournaments in 2010. LaCrosse earned $94,578.

Sure, some of the purses have increased to help Sagstrom become the first to break the $100,000 mark on the LPGA Tour's development circuit. Then again, she did in just under half the tournaments as LaCrosse, and the Swede even missed a cut.

She has won twice, was runner-up twice and, except for that missed cut, hasn't finished out of the top five. She has earned more money than the next three players behind her on the money list combined.

Sagstrom, the SEC player of the year at LSU last season, is taking this week off. She is one victory away from an instant promotion to the LPGA Tour.

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AMATEUR PERKS: Bryson DeChambeau resumes his pursuit of a PGA Tour card, and this much is clear.

There are perks for winning the U.S. Amateur.

Colonial will be his fifth PGA Tour event since turning pro, but he has used only three of the seven sponsor exemptions he is allowed as a non-tour member. And he has at least two more starts that won't count as exemptions.

DeChambeau was one of the two players chosen by former Colonial champions (the other was Kramer Hickok). He gets in the Memorial and Quicken Loans as the U.S. Amateur champion, which has a provision that it doesn't matter if he turns pro. The Texas Open didn't count against his seven sponsor exemptions because he got in as a top 10 from the previous week (he tied for fourth at Hilton Head).

Non-tour members are allowed a maximum of 12 starts.

Depending on how the rest of the year goes, it's possible DeChambeau could reach the limit of 12 before he uses all seven sponsor exemptions. That's the advantage of winning the U.S. Amateur.

Meanwhile, he has the equivalent of 123 points in the FedEx Cup, and would need 361 points (150th place last year) to get unlimited exemptions the rest of the season.

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TIME CAPSULE: Seven years is a long time, especially in the context of golf in the Olympics.

The IOC voted on Oct. 9, 2009, to put golf back in the Olympics. Based on the world ranking that week, the American team would have been Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry. All but Mickelson are no longer in the top 250 in the world.

The Canadian team would have been Mike Weir and Stephen Ames. And for Australia? Geoff Ogilvy and Robert Allenby.

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DIVOTS: Arizona State senior Jon Rahm is the first player to win the Ben Hogan Award twice. Rahm, a Spaniard who is No. 1 in the world amateur ranking, won the award as the outstanding college player over two over highly ranked players, Maverick McNealy of Stanford and Beau Hossler of Texas. Rahm has won four times, including an NCAA regional last week in New Mexico. ... The winner of the Argentina Open on Nov. 17-20 will earn an exemption to the British Open next year. ... Jackie Chulya of Thailand, a junior at Columbia University, has been awarded the Dinah Shore Trophy that honors excellence in school and on the course. Chulya was a unanimous pick as Ivy League player of the year and carries a 3.82 GPA. ... Sergio Garcia became the second player this year to win a PGA Tour event despite hitting two shots in the water in the final round. The other was Adam Scott at the Cadillac Championship.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Jordan Spieth's scoring average on Sunday in his first four events of the year was 66.75. His scoring average in the last five Sunday rounds he has played is 72.6.

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FINAL WORD: "I can't wait. And Rory's not going, so that's good for me." - Russell Knox, a runner-up to Rory McIlroy in the Irish Open last week, on his first appearance in the BMW PGA Championship.

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