Opportunity Knox as Russell eyes WGC defence

Daniel Hicks
AFP
Russell Knox of the US plays a shot during the third round of 2016 CIMB Classic golf tournament in Kuala Lumpur on October 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)

Russell Knox of the US plays a shot during the third round of 2016 CIMB Classic golf tournament in Kuala Lumpur on October 22, 2016

Russell Knox of the US plays a shot during the third round of 2016 CIMB Classic golf tournament in Kuala Lumpur on October 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)

Shanghai (AFP) - Russell Knox is enjoying the new experience of being a defending champion as he prepares to tee off on Thursday in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

The America-based Scot only got into the big money tournament a year ago as a reserve, making a last-minute dash from Kuala Lumpur before pulling off a massive Shanghai surprise to notch his first PGA Tour win.

"This is the first time I've ever defended a professional title. It's great to feel what it's like," Knox told AFP Tuesday on the sidelines of the tournament's launch event at a plush downtown Shanghai hotel.

It was a week of firsts last year at Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club as Knox became the first Scotsman ever to win one the four big-money WGC events, which rank second only to the majors in prestige.

The victory also came on Knox's first trip to Asia following his appearance in the PGA Tour's CIMB Classic in Malaysia the previous week.

A year on and Knox is eyeing becoming the first player to defend the WGC-HSBC Champions trophy successfully.

"Coming into this tournament last year I was just happy to be playing," Knox admitted on Tuesday of the tournament for an elite field that carries a massive $9.5 million prize fund.

"I was like, 'hey, I'm playing with the big boys'. I knew that my game was capable of winning, but I definitely didn't expect it," he said.

Knox played well again in Malaysia last week as Justin Thomas successfully defended that PGA Tour title.

And Knox, who played with Thomas as he shot 64 in the final round to win, believes that could be a good omen.

"I was hoping that because I witnessed him defending his tournament I kind of thought that maybe it's a good thing for me," Knox said.

Knox's first Tour win a year ago heralded the start of a year that has seen a second win, three third places and a raft of top 10 finishes as the late-blooming 31-year-old broke into the world's top 20 for the first time.

"It has been a wild journey, but I believed in myself," confessed Knox. "I knew I was capable of this, but until you do it you're never quite sure it will happen."

Knox is grouped with England's in-form Paul Casey and US Ryder Cup star Rickie Fowler for the first two days, but now says he deserves to be among exalted golfing company.

"If you see yourself wanting to be a star, then that's what it's all about," he said.

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