Russell Knox of Scotland hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2016 Travelers and would like to change that this week.
The 35-year-old Knox carded a 6-under-par 65 in windy, wet conditions to take a one-stroke lead over Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and Tom Hoge after one round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Golf Club in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
“It took me a few holes to kind of settle into my round, but when I did, I had six or seven very good holes,” said Knox, who has won seven times as a pro, including the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions, and lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland in the 2016 Mayakoba Classic.
“I guess it’s the tequila and tacos. Obviously, I love the course. It sets up well for me. I mean, historically, my driving accuracy and iron play’s been my strength, so that’s kind of the key things that this course brings out in you.”
Knox started on the back nine and collected birdies on five of six holes through No. 18, before adding two birdies coming home after making his only bogey when he three-putted on the second hole.
Niemann, 22, who captured the 2019 Military at the Greenbrier, holed out from the fairway for an eagle on the seventh hole to highlight his 66, which Grillo equaled when he made four straight birdies through No. 8 while finishing on the front, and Hoge joined the tie for second by recording four birdies on the back nine.
“I’m playing for Rafita, one of my cousins who was diagnosed a couple days ago with a really rare disease,” said Niemann, who is donating his prize money, $5,000 for every birdie and $10,000 for any eagles to help pay for a drug for his 2-month-old relative in Chile.
“All the guys here on tour are being really nice, using the little ribbons we’re having to support Rafita. He’s fighting now in Chile, so we’ve got to work our way to help him.”
Carlos Ortiz, trying to become the first player from Mexico to win the Mayakoba, holed out from a greenside bunker on the fifth hole in a 67 and is in a big tie for fifth with Aaron Wise of Lake Elsinore, defending champion Brendon Todd, Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Nate Lashley, Akshay Bhatia and Michael Gligic of Canada.
Andy Ogeltree, low amateur at the Masters and the 2019 U.S. Amateur champion, shot 69 in his pro debut and is tied for 20th, while 12th-ranked Brooks Koepka is tied for 56th at 71, and third-ranked Justin Thomas shot 72 and is tied for 70th.
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