McKibbin heads for Italy as his Open Championship exemption hunt continues

Mark McGowan

Tom McKibbin (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Another top 10 finish at last week’s KLM Open saw Tom McKibbin climb into the top 20 on the Race to Dubai, but come up just shy of the two Open Championship exemptions that were on offer, but he gets another chance to play his way into the field at Royal Troon at this week’s Italian Open.

Once again, the top two finishers not already exempt will earn places in the year’s final major championship and after getting his first taste of major action at Pinehurst, backing that up with his first Open Championship appearance will be top of the 21-year-old Holywood man’s wish list for the coming weeks.

This will be his second time playing in the Italian Open, but first time at Adriatic Golf Club in Cervia, with Ryder Cup host venue Marco Simone Golf Club completing the last of its three-year term as the tournament venue in 2023.

The Adriatic Golf Club features three sets of nine holes, with the tournament being played across the Yellow Course (holes 1-9) and the Red Course (holes 10-18), making for a 6,965-yard par 70 examination.

Over the last nine months, there has been a total reconstruction of all the bunkers on the course and they have been rebuilt and reshaped to a high specification.

With the rough set to be at a heigh of approximately 80mm, and fairways at least narrowed by a couple of yards either side, accuracy off the tee will be imperative to aid players to find the small greens.

There are also alterations to tee boxes at the par-three sixth, par-four ninth and par-three 14th, while the plan is to move the tee forward at the par-four 18th over the weekend to make it play around 300 yards and thereby driveable for all the field.

Currently sitting fourth in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee, McKibbin has rapidly become one of the best drivers of the ball so the premium on fairways hit and length should suit him nicely. In addition to his prowess off the tee, he also ranks fourth in scoring average at 69.78 for 55 competitive rounds, so it’s little surprise that he’s among the bookies’ favourites to land his second DP World Tour title.

Among the other leading contenders are LIV’s Patrick Reed, former LIV player and 2021 European Ryder Cup team member Bernd Wiesberger and Italy’s own Guido Migliozzi who locked up one of the two Open Championship exemptions at the KLM Open with a playoff victory.

Should McKibbin fail to secure his Open Championship invitation this week, he’ll head for Final Qualifying on Tuesday, July 2 hoping to emulate his performance at Walton Heath back in May where he managed to lock up his invitation for the U.S. Open.

Interestingly, the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday in Italy and gradually makes its way north and west before culminating in Paris in late July, will pass by the golf course during Sunday’s second stage so it’s sure to be a colourful and spectacular display.

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