McKibbin alongside Murphy after “hacking” his way to an opening 70

Ronan MacNamara

Tom McKibbin in Port Louis, Mauritius. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Tom McKibbin and John Murphy both made steady starts at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open after they carded opening rounds of 70 to lie on two-under-par, eight shots behind Sami Valimaki of Finland who blitzed the field with a 62.

McKibbin arrived after three top-20 finishes in as many starts in his DP World Tour rookie campaign and he continued in that vein of form with an opening birdie on the 10th. Things got scrappy for the 19-year-old, who turns 20 on Monday, as he dropped three shots in five holes from the 13th but did birdie 14.

Another birdie on the par-5 18th ensured he brought an uncomfortable front nine to a close at level-par and he steadied matters with birdies on 2 and 3 and he was happy to shoot under-par given the way he played.

“I’m happy with that today, I didn’t play well at all, just hacked it around and got it around under par. Going to go hit a few and make it better for tomorrow,” he said.

“The course played tricky enough. The first four or five holes there wasn’t much wind and it played pretty straight forward. Then the wind picked up which made things a little difficult and we got a couple of holes of rain on our back nine so overall it was a pretty tricky day if things weren’t going great,” added the Holywood native who might have been punished for poor ball striking on a tighter course than Mont Choisy.

“It’s wide enough off the tee. You can hit a bad drive or sort of just missing the fairway but once you miss the green there are massive run offs but even not the greens there are knuckles that you have to navigate so you definitely have to be sharp around the greens.”

Kinsale’s Murphy birdied two of his last four holes to leap alongside McKibbin in a share of 25th place as he looks to arrest a run of three successive missed cuts.

The 24-year-old, playing his 36th event this year, has made a habit of turning decent rounds into poor ones with a couple of damaging holes but this time around he managed to turn a frustrating round into a decent one.

“We had some rain, hail and shine out there today. But yeah, it was a nice day all the same, played nicely out there,” explained the 2021 Walker Cup player. “Got pretty frustrating to be honest, kept giving myself chances but missed a few but got a couple to go coming in. Nice to finish off the day on a high note.”

Gary Hurley got the last DP World Tour event of 2022 underway as he ripped his opening tee shot down the middle on his way to a level-par 72 which has left him on the cut mark.

The West Waterford man was two-over after ten holes but in his short DP World Tour career, he showed his mental fortitude again with three birdies and just one bogey coming home which included yet another closing birdie.

At the top, it’s Valimaki who shot a course record to take a two-shot lead over playing partner Oliver Bekker. The Fin has been in fine form after a runner-up finish at the Joburg Open and he was bogey-free in a blistering 10-under effort.

“It was a really nice round,” he said. “I putted of course really good, made some longer ones – I haven’t made them the last couple of weeks, so it’s nice to get it rolling.

“Oli played a really good round as well, so we enjoyed the day. I feel like I found the rhythm and the speed for the greens and that was the key to the day.

“Just keep grinding, hitting good shots and just give those opportunities. I still hit the ball really well so just keep making those ones.”

A costly double-bogey on the 8th – his 17th – for Dean Burmester has left his top-50 hopes dangling by a thread.

The South African is the highest ranked player in the field at 56th and needs a win to dislodge compatriot Louis Oosthuizen and book a maiden trip to the Masters. Burmester is nine shots adrift on one-under-par.

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