McKibbin shares podium as victory slips by in Cape Town

by | Feb 20, 2022 | 0 comments

Tom McKibbin (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Adam McKendry

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Holywood teen Tom McKibbin recorded his best Challenge Tour finish of his career, picking up a third-placed result at the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open, however he will be frustrated he couldn’t close out his third round lead in South Africa.

The 19-year-old carried a two-shot advantage into the final day at Royal Cape Golf Club but was the only player in the top-14 who shot an over-par fourth round, a one-over 73 leaving him three shots adrift of eventual winner JC Ritchie, who defended the title he won last year.

Perhaps most frustrating for McKibbin is that his lead evaporated inside the first four holes with two bogeys and, although he managed to work his way back into contention with birdies at the fifth and seventh, another bogey at the eighth was a hammer blow.

The former amateur stand-out gave himself a glimmer of hope with a birdie at the par-five 11th, but a bogey at the par-four 14th ended his challenge as he couldn’t find another birdie on his way back to the clubhouse to at least give himself a chance down the stretch.

Still young, McKibbin will take valuable lessons on how to play Sunday golf from this week, and he proved he is capable of making the step up with a sublime 10-under 62 on Friday, but this will sting for a while.

But it is worth reflecting on how far he has already come, having only turned professional last April, and only nine months later he was challenging for silverware on the Challenge Tour. Even though he didn’t finish on top, he has picked up some vital points in the Race to Mallorca in a bid to claim a DP World Tour card for next season.

As McKibbin and Spain’s Ivan Cantero Gutierrez – who had shared second place overnight – fell away, defending champion Ritchie capitalised with a four-under 68 to claim a one-shot win over Belgium’s Christopher Mivis at 18-under.

Mivis had set the clubhouse target at 17-under with an excellent bogey-free six-under 66, which Ritchie had at one point surpassed with four birdies in his final six holes of his front-nine, but when the South African dropped back-to-back shots at 13 and 14 it looked like the Belgian might have done enough.

But a fine finish from Ritchie saw him birdie the par-five 16th to tie the lead and then produce a fantastic birdie on the final hole to reclaim his title.

“Words can’t describe this feeling, it’s awesome,” he said. “For how I felt on the golf course the last two days and to come out on top, it means everything to me.

“I didn’t feel great. I wasn’t hitting the ball my best up until about Friday, when I felt unbelievable about my game. Then on Saturday, the wind threw me off a little, made a couple of bad shots and started feeling uncomfortable. I went and did some important work yesterday and I managed to hit the important shots well and managed to give myself a chance down 18.

“I did not have the energy for a play-off. I don’t think I made a long putt all week, so I thought it was time to make one.

“It’s special to have that under your belt to say you’ve been able to defend titles, especially multiple times, it’s really special to do that.”

The 27-year-old narrowly missed out on a DP World Tour card in 2021, despite winning in Cape Town at the start of last year, but hopes the extended run of events in South Africa this year will allow him to steal a march on his competitors.

“It’s brilliant to be able to get up there really quick,” he said. “I’m glad we have a couple more events in South Africa than last year. To get the season started off well, especially at home, means the rest of the year could be a bit more of a breeze.

“I think we have a lot of brilliant players down here who don’t have the financial support to get to the Challenge Tour or the main Tours and to Q Schools and so on, so to have these events here, with the collaboration between the Sunshine Tour, Challenge Tour, and DP World Tour, it’s so special for us as players.”

Further down the leaderboard, Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney finished with six birdies, three bogeys and a double in a roller coaster one-under 71 to close in a share of 29th at eight-under, with Greystones’ Paul Dunne signing for an eagle, five birdies, two bogeys and a double in a three-under 69 to sit a shot further back in 36th.

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