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Knox vows to steer Rory McIlroy to Masters glory

By Phil Casey

Augusta member Jeff Knox has vowed to help newly-crowned 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 the Ulsterman's marker in the third round earlier this year – and beat him by one shot.

And Knox declared last night that he could save McIlroy a handful 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 number two 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 congratulation 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.

"I might have to take a couple of trips up before it starts next year and have a couple of practice rounds with him."

Knox added: "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 added: "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.

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, meanwhile, was unable to show off his prized Claret Jug to Stormont's political leaders yesterday, admitting that it needed a good clean after a big night out celebrating.

The three-time major winner grinned as he apologised for turning up empty-handed to Stormont Castle in Belfast on the latest leg of his whirlwind victory tour.

On Monday night the jug took pride of place on the table of an upmarket Belfast nightclub as McIlroy, 25, partied with friends.

But it was nowhere to be seen yesterday as the newly-crowned Open winner stopped by for an informal chat with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

"I am sorry I don't have the Claret Jug, it's not going everywhere with me," the golfing superstar said outside Stormont Castle.

"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."

McIlroy first visited Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness three years ago in the wake of his first major win – the 2011 US Open.

On that occasion Mr McGuinness almost struck one of his advisers with a shanked chip shot on the lawns of Stormont Castle during a photo call.

Perhaps on health and safety grounds, there were no clubs in sight on Tuesday as the political leaders congratulated the home-grown star from Holywood, Co Down on his memorable Open triumph at Hoylake.

"I am obviously very, very proud and honoured to come back home and come home as an Open champion and to be congratulated by everyone," said McIlroy.

"I am very proud to be from Northern Ireland, I am very proud of where I come from and I will never lose touch of that, and I will never lose sight of that - I will never forget where I come from.

"To be able to share these sort of moments with people from back home and close friends and family, it's absolutely wonderful."

Mr Robinson said he hoped McIlroy could complete the grand slam of major wins with victory at the Masters.

"We are really proud of him," said the Democratic Unionist leader. "Not only in terms of the achievements of a fantastic golfing career and the competitions he's won but he is a tremendous ambassador for Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said the Open represented "undoubtedly the greatest prize in world golf".

"It's been absolutely a huge buzz for all of us," he said.

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