McKibbin & McElroy with all to play for at ISPS Handa World Invitational

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McKibbin & McElroy with all to play for at ISPS Handa World Invitational

Tom McKibbin (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ireland’s Tom McKibbin maintained his position as the leading Irish player ahead of the final round of the ISPS Handa World Invitational and he sits just outside the top-20 (T22) on 5-under par.

It could have been better for McKibbin though who started on the back nine as he incurred a one stroke penalty on the 18th hole after he played a ‘preferred lies’ shot.

“I started off pretty good and was 3-under and then on the 18th I don’t really know what happened,” said McKibbin.

“I hit my second shot out of the bunker fine and then, I suppose I’m so used to placing it the last few rounds that I decided to pick it up. So that got me a one shot penalty. I just accidentally marked it and picked it up and then I realised.

“It was totally my fault and I just focussed on my back nine then and had to make a few birdies.“

As it was at the DDF Irish Open last year, the course is coming out as a big winner at this event and having plenty of experience around the Galgorm layout, McKibbin hopes he can make the most of his double cut making opportunity tomorrow.

“It’s playing tough – all the hard holes are straight into the wind and 3, 6 and 9, if you miss the fairway there you’re looking at bogey. I played pretty good today so for tomorrow, iron out a few mistakes and try and keep doing what I’m doing.

“For sure it’s nice to make the cut. The first one of course and then this one obviously.  At the Challenge Tour event last year I bogeyed the last to miss it (the cut) by a shot but yeah it’s nice. I’ve played here enough to I’d like to think I can play around it.”

And McKibbin is joined in round four by Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy who is one shot behind him and made the third round cut on the mark at 4-under par.

At the top of the table, Jordan Smith carded a five under third round 65 to hold a one-stroke advantage over David Horsey heading into the final day.

The English duo will battle it out in the final group on Sunday, both hoping to bridge sizeable gaps since their last respective European Tour victories. It is almost four years to the day since Smith claimed his maiden title at the Porsche European Open, while Horsey’s fourth and most recent win came at the 2015 Made in Denmark.

Galgorm has certainly been a happy hunting ground for Smith, who opened his week with an eight under 62 at the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host venue. His bogey-free 65 on day three means he is 13 under par across his two rounds at Galgorm, with his 15 under total moving him one clear at the top.

“I’m just loving the course. Today we didn’t really do so much at all; the putter saved me quite a few times, so hopefully it can do that tomorrow if needed to,” said Smith.

“I’m really pleased. I made some changes at the end of last year. There’s been a lot of work, a lot of getting used to it and stuff, so it’s nice to see it paying off finally.

“I’ve done it before so I can do it again, I guess. That’s one way of looking at it. I mean, I’ve been playing well around here for the two days that we’ve been here, and I’m feeling good, swing is feeling good, so yeah, we’ll see how it goes,” he added.

Horsey, meanwhile, has improved his score day-by-day, starting the week with a 67 at Galgorm, following that up with a 65 at Massereene Golf Club before a six under 64 on day three at Galgorm – which included his first bogey of the week at the sixth – moved him to outright second place on 14 under par.

“I didn’t play great, to be honest,” said Horsey. “Didn’t hit it in the fairway enough on the back nine but holed some nice putts, and that’s what you’ve got to do. At the end of the day it’s all about scoring and I managed to post a good one today.

“I didn’t think about it to start, to be honest, but when I made that bogey I did think, oh, yeah, that is my first one. But put it to the back in my mind and birdied the next, and just sort of cracked on. Sometimes those things are nice to get out of the way, if you like, and you can just get on without any distractions.

“I get on well with Smithy, and it was nice to sort of see both of us really making plenty of birdies, which is nice. This golf course is quite tricky. There was a bit of breeze out there today, but there’s plenty of birdies out there, so hopefully we can continue it tomorrow. This is the place to be if you like, and to have a chance to win come Sunday is always nice. Go and play golf tomorrow, see what happens, and hopefully can do enough.”

The pair will face off in the final round of the men’s event at Galgorm alongside their playing partner, second round leader Daniel Hillier, who is the closest challenger on 11 under par. Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura and Darius Van Driel of the Netherlands are a shot further back on 10 under.

The women’s event is also set for a thrilling finale as three players share the lead heading into the final round at Galgorm. Pajaree Annanarukarn of Thailand was joined on 13 under by American duo Jennifer Kupcho and Emma Talley and they will tee it up together in the final group, all chasing their maiden LPGA Tour victories.

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