On just his second start as a DP World Tour card holder, Tom McKibbin produced a hole in one on the 224-yard par-3 11th hole on his way to a five-under 67 on day one of the Investec South African Open Championship.
McKibbin backed up his ace with further birdies on 13 and 17 to lie in seventh place, just three shots behind local favourite Thriston Lawrence in Blair Atholl Golf & Equestrian Estate.
“It was just a perfect five iron and my caddie Chris just said go right at it and I went right at it,” explained the 19-year-old. “It never really left the flag. Obviously you couldn’t really see it being uphill and I heard everyone cheering so I knew it went in.
“It was really cool.”
Playing alongside Ryder Cup vice captain Edoardo Molinari, McKibbin took a while to settle. He with a birdie on the first before back-to-back bogeys dropped him the wrong side of par.
Birdies on 5 and 9 saw him turn under par before the hole in one on 11 kickstarted his round and roared him into contention.
The Holywood native impressed on his way to a top-20 at the Joburg Open last week and two top-7 finishes in February at the beginning of the Challenge Tour season set the tone as he secured his DP World Tour card in his first full season as a professional.
“It was a very good day, obviously got a little bit of luck after the turn but played really solid after the third hole and just had a really good day from there.
“It’s a really good course, it’s long and challenging but I definitely enjoyed the test. Got to hit it in the right positions especially on the greens, some are really big, you can hit the greens and be far away but I’m really enjoying it.
“I play quite well in South Africa, the altitude can be tricky especially with the wind so you need to trust it but the ball goes quite a long way. You could be 190 out and hitting a 7 or 8 iron.
“I’m just here to play another tournament and see how good I can do, obviously it is a big tournament. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week the course suits me quite well.”
Meanwhile, Gary Hurley got his rookie season underway on a positive note with a three-under 69 to share 25th place.
Having initially earned a Challenge Tour card via the Alps Tour, the West Waterford native skipped a level and won his DP World Tour card at Q-School earlier this month and he looked comfortable, posting four birdies and just one bogey.
Beginning on the back nine the 29-year-old opened with a birdie, bogey run before turning in 35 with gains on 13 and 17.
Hurley’s back nine was less eventful with eight pars and a lone birdie on the par-3 3rd.
Also embarking on his rookie season is Kinsale’s John Murphy and he has work to do to avoid successive missed cuts after a two-over 74.
Like round two in the Joburg Open Murphy is turning 70s into over par rounds and three bogeys in four holes saw him slip from under par to plus two.
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