After an eight-over opening round, Tom McKibbin has battled his way back to level-par and goes into the final round of the ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm Castle tied for 20th.
Out in early groups, the 20-year-old Holywood man faced the worst of the conditions as the remnants of Storm Betty delivered wind and rain for most of the morning, but he was much closer in resemblance to the McKibbin who scorched round Castlerock in six-under than the one who limped around Galgorm in eight-over on Thursday.
Birdies at two, five and nine had him motoring nicely and, as the only Irishman to make the cut – Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire made the cut in the women’s event – he was giving the home fan plenty to cheer about despite the miserable conditions.
Unfortunately, he’d fail to keep the momentum going on the back nine, and a bogey at the 17th dropped him back to two-under for the day and level-par for the tournament.
Still, with all those at +3 and over going home after falling victim to the 54-hole cut, McKibbin can now target a push for a top-10 finish that looked an impossibility after his opening effort.
An emotional home win is off the cards, however, as Englishman Daniel Brown continued his incredible scoring with a third-round 67 that moved him to -14 and into a six-stroke lead.
Only fellow Englishman John Parry has matched Brown’s feat of shooting three successive rounds in the sixties, but at -6, Parry is tied for fifth and Alex Fitzpatrick and big-hitting South African Wilco Nienaber are best placed to mount a challenge to Brown as they sit tied for second at -8.
“Obviously, there’s still a good way to go yet,” said Brown who’s taking nothing for granted. “But yeah, it’s nice to play well and keep that lead and make it a little bit more comfortable than I suppose what it might be. But yeah, still one day to go.
“I’ve driven it really well, which tends to be my strength anyway. But I’ve seen around here the rough is pretty juicy in places, so that’s been important. It’s just all seemed to fit together for the vast majority of this week.
“I’m very tired. Played two practice rounds this week, which we wouldn’t normally do over two courses. I hope I’m tired enough to get some rest.”
Fitzpatrick, who played alongside Brown, was suitably impressed by the steadiness displayed and though he’s a long way back, is determined to give it a go in tomorrow’s final round.
“It was very impressive,” he admitted. “And obviously he’s a great driver of the golf ball and and that definitely showed today. I don’t think he missed many fairways. But, you know, he had a lot of good shots at the right time and holed some good shots. It was very impressive. This course is very, very tough off the tee and plays long, tricky greens. It was good to watch.
“I think at the end of the day you can only control what you can do. So for me, I’m going to go out and try my best tomorrow and see where it takes me. And if I do, you know, didn’t play great, then there’s nothing I can do. But if he goes out and plays great it’s like, great, good for him. I’ve known him for a long time. Going to go and see what I can do tomorrow.”