Closing birdie keeps McKibbin in Qatar Masters hunt

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Tom McKibbin (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

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A late birdie kept Tom McKibbin within touching distance of the halfway lead at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

McKibbin rolled in a closing birdie from 11-feet to move to five-under-par and within four of the lead held by Haydn Barron.

It was an up and down day for the 21-year-old who opened his round with a birdie, bogey start before birdieing the fifth and bogeying the 8th.

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The putter was behaving nicely for McKibbin who held from 12 and 16 feet for birdies on the twelfth and fourteenth before letting a shot go on the next.

A birdie on the last lifted him into a share of sixth place with ten other players and ensured he remained on the coattails of Barron.

The Australian turned 28 on Thursday and celebrated by moving one behind first-round leaders Ashun Wu and Zander Lombard after an impressive four-under-par 68.

After starting with nine straight pars on Friday, Barron got on the birdie trail at the tenth, added another at the 14th before a birdie-birdie-birdie finish saw him come home in 31 to set the mark at nine under at Doha Golf Club.

Fellow Australian Harrison Endycott and Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino were his closest challengers at seven under, with Lombard and Dane Niklas Nørgaard both one stroke further back.

Barron, who earned his card at the DP World Tour Qualifying School in November, arrived in Qatar on the back of a final round of 67 at last week’s Bahrain Championship presented by Bapco Energies and maintained his momentum with a pair of low scores.

“It was a good day. It got off to a bit of a slow start – nine pars in a row at the front – hitting really good shots and playing really well, just the putts were sliding by,” Barron said.

“Hit one through the green on ten and chipped one close for my first birdie and then felt a little bit of momentum and rolled a couple in coming home there.

“It’s a beast of a golf course. You really got to strike it well, got to be in the fairway and sometimes just got to hit it into the middle of the greens and take your 60-70 footers if you are out of position.

“So it’s definitely a course which requires a bit of wit and some smarts, and luckily (caddie) Matty (Miller) has been good on the bag and we left ourselves some good numbers.”

Barron struggled to make an impact on the leaderboard, where the lead briefly inflated to seven under during the morning, before he finally got in the red numbers on the back nine.

He had endured a brilliant par save at the sixth after several near-misses to card birdies on the front nine before he chipped to within four feet at the tenth to climb to five under.

Barron narrowly missed lengthy efforts to improve at the next two holes, but picked up his second shot of the day at the 14th when he drained a 14-foot putt.

The Australian took full advantage of the closing stretch when he chipped his second shot at the short par-four 16th inside four feet and when he rolled in a birdie putt from 20 feet at the next, he was the first player to reach eight under.

Barron was not finished there, though, as he chose to lay-up at the par-five last and dialled in his approach to concessional range for a third straight birdie and blemish-free 67.

Endycott also struggled to get his second round going, but eventually carded his first gain at the eighth before picking up another shot at the tenth from six feet.

An impressive iron to four feet set up his third birdie at the 12th to help him climb alongside Lombard at six under. The Australian then found the green with his tee-shot at the 16th and two-putted to become Barron’s closest rival. He had a brilliant chance to cut the gap to one, but slid his birdie putt by at the last.

Following an opening 69, Hoshino dropped a shot at the second but bounced back with superb approach shots at the sixth and ninth to get into the red numbers.

He added another birdie at the tenth to climb to five under before the Japanese traded a bogey with a gain at the 12th and 13th respectively.

Successive birdies from the 16th saw Hoshino sit him sit alongside Endycott at seven under, but a wayward second shot at the 18th saw his chances of cutting the two-shot deficit disappear.

Rasmus Højgaard carded the lowest round of the tournament so far to catapult himself into contention following a 66, which consisted of an eagle, five birdies and one dropped shot.

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