2022 HORIZON IRISH OPEN: It’s a Fox hunt in Co. Kilkenny

You are owed nothing in life but it kind of feels like the Horizon Irish Open, not to mention the past few months, owe Ryan Fox a little something.

The stocky son of former All Black flyhalf Grant Fox seemingly had the 2018 Irish Open in his grasp only for Scotland’s Russell Knox to hole two improbable 40-footers for the €998,425 win, the first on Ballyliffin’s 72nd hole to force overtime and the next, from an almost identical spot, to curtail the playoff at the first extra hole.

Fox has gone on to collect a pair of DP World Tour titles, the World Super 6 Perth the following year and the Ras Al Khaimah Classic as recently as February. He’s been in giddy form ever since his Al Hamra high with five further top-10s including a T2 at the Saudal Open, another playoff loss to Frenchman Victor Perez at the Dutch Open and third place at last week’s BMW International Open in steamy Munich.

Indeed, Fox is arguably the hottest man in pro golf right now and showed why with a bogey-free, eight-under 64 to snare the first-round lead at the 67th Irish Open at Mount Juliet Estate on Thursday. The 35-year-old New Zealander is a shot clear of Frenchman Frederic Lacroix, Germany’s Marcel Schneider, Spaniard Jorge Campillo and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti heading into Friday and is projected to soar up to second in the DP World Tour Rankings presented by Rolex if he can maintain his current position.

Do you think there’s something in the stars for you here in Ireland maybe, Ryan?

“Yeah, I mean, yeah, I — maybe just for me not to get in playoffs,” said the Kiwi, deploying his trademark dry sense of humour.

“I seem to have a record of people holing 40-footers on me in playoffs. So maybe that’s why I play well in Ireland. I don’t know. But hopefully, it continues for the rest of the week.”

Fox lost his voice after picking up a bug from his young daughter in Munich. It made the weekend a grind as he shot 71-67 to finish two strokes adrift after another fast start.

He was slowish out of the blocks in Thomastown on Thursday too but birdied six holes in inward nine (Mount Juliet’s front nine) of 30.

“Just feels a little bit like home, to be honest. The people are great. The golf course is great,” Fox said when asked why he finds golf in Ireland so comfortable.

“I’m more surprised, to be honest, than anything else. I’ve been fighting it on the range the last couple days after the weekend, and certainly didn’t look like it early in the round. I made a couple of birdies, but I was scrapping away, and then …on 7, 8, hit a great wedge shot in there and made a few putts as well.

“So just one of those days that I guess shows how important patience is in a round of golf, and from the first six holes, I felt like two-under would have been a great score. And then the last 10 holes, I felt like I could have shot anything, to be honest.”

Fox was asked if playing behind the marquee morning group of Séamus Power (68), Shane Lowry (71) and Tyrrell Hatton (73) had been a distraction. But nothing much fazes Fox, especially not in his current rich vein of form.

“I’d say it’s more freedom than confidence. It’s just I feel really happy with where I am on the golf course and off the golf course, and that’s a nice place to be, just go out and try to hit a good shot. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.

“And there’s definitely some confidence there. I feel really comfortable here, where my game’s at, which is — probably hasn’t happened for a few years out here now. And it’s obviously a recipe for success. I’ve gotten close a few times the last few weeks. It’d certainly be nice to get another one over the line.”

But Fox knows nothing is guaranteed in life much less golf. It has to be earned and that won’t be easy with 54 holes to play mixed with some almost inevitable Irish weather over the weekend.

“It’s pretty hard to win out here, and being in contention every week is pretty taxing as well. So I’m excited to do it, and hopefully I’ve got another chance this week.”

Freshly-minted U.S. Senior Open champion Pádraig Harrington will start Friday on -2, six back of Fox, after a tidy 70.

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