Saturday, May 26, 2018

Russell Knox wins HSBC Champions in first appearance

SHANGHAI — Russell Knox raised both arms, closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the heavens as if he couldn't believe what he had just done.

Dating to when the World Golf Championship began in 1999, no one had ever won in his debut. Knox wasn't even eligible for the HSBC Champions until he got in 10 days earlier as an alternate, then it was a mad scramble in Malaysia to get a Chinese visa in time to play.

Walking out of the Sheshan International clubhouse Sunday with a share of the 54-hole lead, Knox noticed a billboard with names and images of past winners at the HSBC Champions — Phil Mickelson, Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson.

"Everyone who wins this tournament is a superstar," Knox said. "I knew this would be the hardest day in my life."

For a 30-year-old from Scotland who had never won in 92 PGA events, Knox made it look like a breeze. He broke out of a five-way tie for the lead with two birdies to start the back nine and was flawless the rest of the way for 4-under 68 and a two-shot victory over Kevin Kisner.

"I always thought I was going to win a big one for my first one," he said. "But this is going to take a long time to sink in."

He played alongside Johnson, whose power can be so intimidating that Knox didn't watch him hit a shot for 12 holes. In the group ahead was Jordan Spieth, on his way back to No. 1 in the world. The cheers were for Li Haotong, the 20-year-old from Shanghai who received rock star treatment during a wild final round that ended with the best finish ever by a Chinese player on the PGA Tour: a tie for seventh, five strokes back.

"Incredible for me this week," Li said. "This for me is very, very big."

Knox finished at 20-under 268 and earned $1.4 million, along with perks that include his first trip to the Masters in April.

"I got married on Saturday of the Masters," he said. "What a great wedding anniversary we're going to have."

CHAMPIONS: Billy Andrade won the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating points winner Bernhard Langer with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff. Andrade, 51, closed with 6-under 64 on Desert Mountain's Cochise Course, making a 10-foot birdie putt on 18 to finish at 14-under 266. Langer (67) missed a chance to win on 18 in regulation when his 18-foot eagle putt lipped out. Third-round leader Michael Allen shot 70 to finish two strokes back.

LPGA: Sun-Ju Ahn won the Toto Japan Classic in Shima for her first tour victory and 20th Japan LPGA title, beating fellow South Korean player Ji-Hee Lee and American Angela Stanford with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff. Ahn closed with 5-under 67 at Kintetsu Kashikojima to match Stanford (67) and Lee (66) at 16-under 200. Second-round leader Jenny Shin had 70 to finish a stroke back.

PGA: Roberto Castro clung to a one-stroke lead in the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Miss., after playing the first six holes in the suspended third round in 2-over. Play at the rain-delayed tournament was suspended because of darkness and will resume this morning with the final round following. Castro was at 13 under after starting the round with a four-stroke lead.