Tom McKibbin may be too far back to challenge for the title but the Galgorm touring pro has positioned himself for a potential top-10 finish on home soil going into the final round of the ISPS HANDA World Invitational.
The 19-year-old made the one-over-par halfway cut on the mark and, with the combined field being whittled down to the top-35 on both the men’s and women’s side after Saturday’s third round, he knew a low round was needed on day three.
And McKibbin provided it, two eagles, three birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey leading to a four-under 66 – the third-best score of the day behind Denmark’s Marcus Helligkilde’s 64 – taking him up to three-under-par for the tournament.
That leaves him in a share of 15th, well inside the eventual third round cut line, and McKibbin admits he exceeded even what he thought would have been possible when he started his round.
“Today I was looking just to get through this cut and, to be totally honest, I thought was going to be too hard given the way this course has been playing. I was thinking the cut might be around two-under, so I’d have to shoot three. Four was nice,” grinned the Galgorm touring pro.
“It felt good. It was definitely a lot trickier today, it’s getting firmer. The wind actually was really strong for the first six or seven holes and then calmed down again. It was a good day.”
The man they’re chasing, as has been the case all week, is Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson as he closed in on a second DP World Tour title with a two-under 68 that moves him to 11-under, three clear of former Irish Open winner John Catlin.
Ferguson, who triumphed at March’s Qatar Masters, picked up three birdies in his first 10 holes but had fallen back towards the pack after a pair of bogeys on his back nine, however a birdie at the closing par-five opened up a bit more breathing room heading into day four.
“Thirty-six holes I played really, really good but today was such a grind. I knew that I didn’t feel great on the range and it was going to be a grind, so battled away and chipped and putted my way to shooting a really good 68 around a tough golf course and extended my lead. Can’t ask for much more, to be honest,” said Ferguson.
“I had a 4-shot lead in Kenya and didn’t do really well. Learned from that experience. If I win tomorrow, then I win. If not, like I’m playing another 1000 tournaments, so I’ll just kind of learn from it as much as I can.”
Catlin matched McKibbin’s 68 with six birdies and two bogeys to move into second place at eight-under-par as he looks to win around Galgorm for the second time in his career, with a 65 from former World Invitational champion Jack Senior moving him into a share of third at seven-under alongside Helligkilde, Borja Virto and Connor Syme.
There was heartbreak for John Murphy, who had clawed his way back inside the cut line after a dreadful start to his third round, beginning the day four-under but dropping six shots in his first seven holes after losing two tee shots.
A birdie at the 17th moved him back to level-par and in line to make Sunday, only for him to hook his tee shot on the final hole and take a bogey, meaning he missed out by one as a 75 dropped him back to one-over.
A 71 featuring five birdies, four bogeys and a double-bogey meant Gary Hurley missed out by two shots at two-over-par, while Paul Dunne had a tough day with three birdies, three bogeys and two double-bogeys leading to a 74 to miss the cut at four-over.