McKibbin primed for Kenyan charge after successive rounds of 69

Mark McGowan

Tom McKibbin (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Back-to-back two-under-par 69s see Tom McKibbin safely through to the weekend at the Magical Kenya Open, but Gary Hurley and John Murphy will be going home early after missing the 36-hole cut.

For the second day in succession, a strong second nine saw the Holywood youngster reverse his fortunes at quirky Muthaiga Golf Club in the Nairobi suburbs, as he continues to gain experience on European golf’s bigger stage.

A bogey at the par-3 second hole was followed by back-to-back birdies on the par-4 third and par-5 fourth holes, but he’d drop strokes at the sixth and ninth holes to reach the midpoint at +1 for the day and -1 for the tournament, right on the projected cutline.

On day one, it was an eagle-three at the fourth that kick-started the turnaround, and he repeated the feat in the second round, this time the eagle coming at the par-5 tenth courtesy of a terrific putt from 50-odd feet.

Seven pars followed, before he’d sign off with a closing birdie at the 18th, the shortest of the four par-5s. His successive rounds of 69 saw him climb to 26th on the leaderboard, comfortably making the weekend, and primed for a moving-day surge just six off the lead.

There’s no such chances for Gary Hurley and John Murphy, both of whom missed the mid-way chop. Murphy’s troubles show no sign of abating, the only real consolation being that he bettered his opening tally by one.

The Kinsale man has found the step in class tough to handle, and has yet to get a DP World Tour paycheck since graduating through Q-School in November.

Hurley began the day on +1, having let a promising position slip on the back nine on day one. He’d begin his second round on the 10th, and again, it would be the traditional inward nine that would be his undoing.

Despite an opening birdie at the par-5 10th, he’d give that stroke back on the 12th before a disastrous quadruple-bogey at the par-3 13th all but sealed his fate.

To his credit, despite virtually killing all chances of progression in a 15-minute period, he’d professionally go about his business for the rest of the round, stringing five pars together to close out his first nine and he’d play the front side in one-under, leaving him +4 for the tournament and five strokes shy of the cutline.

Spaniard Nacho Elvira holds the 36-hole lead, his six-under 65 saw him leapfrog the overnight leaders to post -10. He played his final 12 holes in seven-under, finishing in style with an eagle at the last.

“Every time you’re leading it’s the best position to be in,” Elvira said after his round. “I feel like I’ve been playing good, even at the beginning of the year when I was missing cuts but I felt like the game was still there. Maybe a couple more putts dropped the last few days and that makes it a good score.

“I didn’t look at the leaderboard (before starting). We had a game plan, we tried to stick to it. We tried to enjoy the moment, I’ve been struggling. It’s my caddie’s first week with me, I’ve been struggling trying to enjoy myself on the golf course and I’m trying to do that at the moment.”

The 36-year-old is seeking his second DP World Tour win – the first coming when he edged Justin Harding in a playoff at the 2021 Cazoo Welsh Open at Celtic Manor – and he’ll be joined in Saturday’s final group by Ryo Hisatsune and Nick Bachem from Germany who both posted -9.

Hisatsune’s 63 was the round of the day, carding identical front and back nines that each featured five birdies and a bogey, having gone round in -1 on the opening day.

South African Jayden Schaper completes the three-way tie for second, with a further three – including joint first-round leader John Catlin – a shot further back on -8.

McKibbin’s three-ball, where he’ll play alongside 2010 Ryder Cupper Edoardo Molinari, will tee off a minute before 10 local time (09:59 AM Irish time), with South African Bryce Easton completing the trio.


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