Tom McKibbin entered into the third round of the ISPS HANDA World Invitational just trying to make it into the final day at Galgorm Castle but could end the day somewhere around the top-10.
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 second-best score of the early starters behind Denmark’s Marcus Helligkilde – taking him up to three-under-par for the tournament.
That left him in a share of 15th when he finished his round and, with scoring proving tough at Galgorm due to a fresh breeze and the ever-firming fairways, he could finish the day even higher than that.
Not bad for a man who was just trying to make the second cut, 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.”
Starting at the 10th due to the two-tee start, McKibbin immediately took advantage of his par-five opening hole with a birdie before going on an incredible run at the end of his front nine, birdieing 16 and 17 after approaches to four- and nine-feet respectively, before he then rattled in a 30-footer for eagle on the par-five 18th.
“I’ve been playing well the last two days and haven’t holed any putts, but I hit two good shots close on 16 and 17 and then hit a nice 6-iron into the 18th and and held a 30-footer, which was nice. Just got on a nice wee run,” he explained.
His momentum looked to have been snapped with his double-bogey, which came at the first, pulling his approach over the back of the green into the fescue, running the chip through the green and into a bunker and failing to make up-and-down.
But as far as bouncebacks go, his drive on the second was about as perfect as McKibbin could have asked for, rolling it up to four-feet for a tap-in eagle on the 314-yard par-four to immediately get those two shots back.
“I would never normally go for the second hole because I’ve played here so many times and hit so many poor shots in casual rounds!” laughed McKibbin.
“I just thought about it last night, if I was hitting driver well then I would go for it, I had nothing to lose, so I went for it and it really paid off. I knew one good shot set up at least a birdie and I could get at least one shot back (from the first) but it was nice to get both.”
He finished the day with bogey at the par-four sixth, failing to make up-and-down from the greenside bunker, but a 66 represents an excellent day’s work for the teenager as he looks to boost his hopes of promotion to the DP World Tour next season.
There are Road to Mallorca points on offer for players based on where they finish this week, meaning McKibbin – who is 16th at present – could get another bump up the rankings with a big final round.