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HARD KNOX: Russell Knox started the year with no status on any tour. He wound up at No. 12 on the Nationwide Tour to earn his shot in the big leagues, a spot he never imagined when he was toiling away in the north of Scotland and wondering if he belonged.

Knox recalls being selected to play for Scotland in a European junior event in Spain, where he saw Rory McIlroy as a teenager and played on the same team as Lloyd Saltman.

“I remember being on the range thinking to myself, ‘These guys are way better than me.’ Watching them hit it, the sound off the club was different,” Knox said. “That was my moment. I thought, ‘OK, I have to significantly improve from now or I might as well give up.’”

And so he went to work, earning a golf scholarship to Jacksonville University, working at a local golf course and doing well enough on the mini-tours that he could pay his own way as he kept his hopes alive.

Knox, who relies more on accuracy than length, got into the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook through Monday qualifying (he missed the cut), then headed west and tried to Monday qualify at a Nationwide event in northern California. He earned one of the spots, tied for second in the Fresh Express Classic to get status for the year, and won three months later in Chiquita Classic in Ohio.

The highlight was getting a letter from Arnold Palmer congratulating him on his win. Palmer’s design company built the TPC River Bend course on which he won.

“My dad is a huge Palmer fan, and he didn’t believe it,” Knox said.

Knox still has a hard time believing that the Scottish kid who once thought he wasn’t good enough will be teeing it up in Honolulu next year as a full member of the PGA Tour.

“It won’t sink in until I’m on the first tee and the heart is pounding,” Knox said. “I still can’t believe I’m going to have that. I can’t wait for the chance to see if I’m good enough.”

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HIDDEN TIGER: Tiger Woods has gone two years without a win, and his fall from the top of golf has been illustrated by his failure to qualify for the Tour Championship in 2010 for the first time in his career, and his failure this season to even reach the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving him a forced six-week break.

This week presents another first in the worst kind of way. Even though Woods had no intentions of playing the HSBC Champions, this is the first time he has not been eligible to play a World Golf Championship. This from a guy who won 15 of the WGC events.

Woods slipped to No. 56 in the world ranking this week. He has only two tournaments left this year, then as many as two events next year to make sure he doesn’t miss another WGC. Only the top 64 in the world ranking get to the Match Play Championship.

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