McKibbin joined by Murphy in Workwear Open weekend

Adam McKendry

Tom McKibbin (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Tom McKibbin may have moved up into the top-five at the midway point of the Challenge Tour’s Jonsson Workwear Open in Durban, but he and the rest of the field are already at risk of becoming also-rans to the brilliance of JC Ritchie.

McKibbin produced a fantastic stretch of golf to finish his round, birdieing five of his last six holes to card a four-under 68 at Durban Country Club and reach nine-under, but that is already nine shots adrift of runaway leader Ritchie.

The South African, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Thursday with a hole-in-one on his way to a nine-under 61 at the second course on the rotation this week, Mount Edgecombe Country Club, backed it up with another nine-under round at Durban CC.

With two eagles and five birdies on his card in a bogey-free 63, Ritchie – who won last week’s Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open too – takes a six-shot lead into the weekend at 18-under, with Jbe Kruger his nearest challenger at 12-under.

That should take nothing away from McKibbin, who is in a rich vein of form at present after finishing third in Cape Town last week, and the conclusion to his round was another reminder of the talent the teenager possesses.

The 19-year-old looked to be heading for his first average round in a while after his first 12 holes, birdies at the par-three second and par-four ninth undone by bogeys at the par-four seventh and par-five 10th, but in his final six holes he burst into life.

Back-to-back birdies came at 13 and 14, followed by a bogey at the 15th, but another three consecutive birdies to close out his round moved him up to nine-under and has him in a tie for fifth heading into the weekend as the Northern Irishman looks to continue his bid for a DP World Tour spot.

If he closes out back-to-back wins, Ritchie will only be one victory away from automatically being promoted to the elite circuit himself, and he has put himself in a fantastic position to do so as his round has him six ahead of fellow countryman Kruger.

He kicked things off with an eagle at the par-five third at Durban CC and continued his scoring with two more birdies at the sixth and seventh before his second eagle arrived at the par-five eighth.

So good has his scoring been recently that Ritchie’s back nine was practically boring by comparison, just three birdies coming at the 10th, 12th and 14th to further his advantage at the top and already has him with one hand on the trophy for the second consecutive week.

Former European Tour winner Kruger shot his second consecutive six-under round, this a 66 at Durban CC, to move up to 12-under, with a 64 at Durban from Sweden’s Adam Blomme moving him alongside Belgium’s Christopher Mivis at 11-under.

McKibbin shares fifth with South Africa’s Rupert Kaminski at nine-under, with four players rounding out the top-10 at eight-under.

There wasn’t much good news beyond McKibbin from an Irish perspective, however, as Kinsale’s John Murphy was the only other local player to book a weekend tee time as four of the remaining five players all agonisingly missed out by a shot.

Murphy narrowly avoided the same fate, the 23-year-old birdieing his 17th hole – the eighth – for a three-under 67 at Mount Edgecombe to reach four-under for the week, right on the cut mark that will give him an early start on Saturday.

But for Robin Dawson, Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and Niall Kearney it would be curtains as the quartet all finished three-under, one shot too many.

Had Dunne made it in, it would have been one of the comebacks of the season so far after the Greystones man played his back nine on Thursday in seven-over-par, and he gave it all he had with six birdies and two bogeys in a four-under 66 at Mount Edgecombe, but he fell just short.

For the others it was all a case of so near and yet so far as small mistakes ended up costing them dear. Waterford’s Dawson never quite got motoring, two late birdies not enough in a two-under 68 at Mount Edgecombe, while a double-bogey at the par-four fourth would ruin Kearney’s hopes as the Royal Dublin ace settled for a 67.

Donabate man Moynihan mounted an excellent attempt as he carded four birdies on his back nine, but unfortunately he couldn’t find one more in a 68 at Durban CC that left him one shot too many.

Further down the leaderboard, Richard O’Donovan concluded his tournament with a four-over 76 to finish at 13-over for the week.

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