Tom McKibbin captured his maiden DP World Tour victory after a three-under round of 69 was enough to see the 20-year-old Tour rookie secure a two-stroke victory over home favourites Maximilan Kieffer and Marcel Siem.
The victory sees McKibbin join fellow Holywood man Rory McIlroy in the 2023 winners’ circle, and becomes the second Northern Irishman to taste victory at the European Open after Darren Clarke’s triumph at the K Club in 2001.
Having begun the day part of a six-way tie for the lead, McKibbin was virtually flawless on the front nine, birdieing both par-5s along with the par-4 seventh, to hold a two-stroke lead at the turn.
A wayward tee shot on the par-5 11th forced him to take an unplayable and led to his first dropped shot of the day, but with Kieffer bogeying soon after, the lead was back to two again, but the chasing pack had grown in number and there were now five hot on his tail.
His second bogey of the day came at the 13th, when, having drawn an unfortunate lie in the bunker, he failed to get up and down. Up ahead, Kieffer responded by birdieing the par-5 16th to tie the lead, and fellow countryman Siem followed suit with birdie on 15. Buoyed on by the vocal home support, the German duo were keeping the hammer down, but after a nervy patch in the early stages of the back nine, the Holywood man looked to have settled the nerves as he split the fairway on 15.
From prime position, McKibbin took the aggressive approach on the par-5 and opted for a fairway wood which he’d push slightly right, but with heart in mouth, it would clear the hazard and nestle in the rough just short and right of the green.
Meanwhile, Kieffer had reached the par-5 closer and put himself in prime position, while Siem was making something of a mess of the 16th where he’d eventually make bogey, but Kieffer’s long approach was flared right, and McKibbin’s deft chip came to a rest three-feet from the hole and he’d duly dispatch the birdie putt to regain his advantage.
With Kieffer unable to hole his seven-footer for birdie on the last, McKibbin held a one-stroke lead, with Siem and Julien Guerrier, who was playing behind McKibbin in the final group, one further adrift on -6.
From there, the Holywood prodigy would par his way to the last where Siem had birdied to tie Kieffer in the clubhouse. Knowing that a par would likely be enough, from slightly blocked out, he hit the shot of the tournament, drawing an iron to the heart of the green to give himself a 20-footer for eagle.
From there, two putts would do, and the victory would be the 63rd European Tour success by a Northern Irish player and could set up a dream Sunday for Holywood with fellow clubman Rory McIlroy tied for the lead going into the final round at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.
The win sees McKibbin climb to 22nd in the Race to Dubai rankings, and to a career-high 159th in the world rankings.