Eighteen holes stand between Tom McKibbin and his first Challenge Tour win as he takes a two-shot lead into the final round of the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open in South Africa.
The 19-year-old Holywood man, who shot a sensational 10-under 62 on Friday to take the halfway lead, added a conservative two-under 70 on day three to reach 16-under for the week, which is two clear of South Africa’s own JC Ritchie and Spain’s Ivan Cantero Gutierrez.
McKibbin is already a winner this season having won a Minor Golf League Tour event in Florida last month, however closing out a Challenge Tour win would be a big step up, and a major boost in his bid to earn a European Tour spot for next season.
The impressive teen saw his bogey-free streak ended at 38 holes when he bogeyed the third, but he added three birdies on his way back to the clubhouse to keep Ritchie and Cantero Gutierrez at arm’s length going into Sunday.
He may have seen his second-round lead cut by a shot, but McKibbin was pleased with his afternoon’s work ahead of trying to close things out in round four.
“Seeing how windy it was when I arrived this morning, I definitely would’ve taken 70, two under today,” he said. “It was real tricky, the wind was swirling and it was just hard with how tight it is, just to hold the fairways and stuff like that.
“It was definitely tricky. The first two holes were downwind and you’re almost getting too close to the greens. The third was basically a par five today, I’m sure not many people got there in two. It was a tough start, so you just had to get through nine and then the back nine was a little easier, there wasn’t as much wind and the wind favoured the holes.”
After the opening two rounds were split across the Royal Cape and Rondebosch courses in Cape Town, the action returned exclusively to Royal Cape on Saturday and McKibbin appeared to be buckling under the pressure when he bogeyed the third to take a step back to the field.
But the teen, who only turned pro 10 months ago, showed his mental resolve as he took advantage of the par-five fifth to get back to level-par at the turn, and he would extend his lead to two with birdies at the par-five 11th and par-three 15th on a tidy back-nine.
“The birdie on 15 was huge,” he said. “It was a tough pin, sort of smelly over the water so I just tried to hit it into the middle of the green and then two-putt it from there, but fortunately it went in.
“I feel good. I’ve been practicing all winter for when I put myself in these positions, which has been nice. Hopefully I can just move on and play a good round of golf tomorrow.
“I’ve played a lot of golf tournaments before, so I’ve done it a lot, obviously not like here, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Ritchie, the defending champion, put himself in contention with the joint lowest round of the day, two eagles, two birdies and a bogey leading to a five-under 67 which has him alongside Cantero Gutierrez, who continued a consistent week with a 69.
Five players, including McKibbin’s closest challenger after the second round Zander Lombard, are still in touch at 13-under, with fellow South Africans Bryce Easton and Neil Schietekat matching Ritchie’s low 67 on the day to also reach that mark.
Meanwhile, Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney shares 24th after a one-under 71 took him up to seven-under for the week, while Greystones man Paul Dunne struggled to a second consecutive one-over 73 to drop down to four-under and is tied-43rd.