Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin was pleased to finish without a blemish on his scorecard as he opened the ISPS HANDA World Invitational with a three-under 67 at Massereene.
The Holywood man picked up three birdies and no bogeys in his first round to finish the day as the leading local player, but that was only good enough to leave him five shots off the early leader on the men’s side of the draw Jordan Smith, who shot a sensational eight-under 62 at Galgorm.
McKibbin has had a solid if unspectacular start to life in the professional ranks, with his highest finish being a tied-12th at the Challenge Tour’s Irish Challenge, but the 18-year-old was pleased with how he played in his first round on home soil as a pro.
“Nice to be bogey-free, especially with the rain, it was hammering it down when we started and for the first nine holes, which made it pretty tricky,” he said.
“Had to grind a lot and make some good pars in the conditions, stayed patient.
“Looking forward to Galgorm tomorrow. Everyone has said to me ‘you know Galgorm well’ but the way the weather has been recently, it’s a different test to what we are used to. Key is to keep the ball in play.”
Meanwhile, leader Smith had an incredible back-nine at Galgorm, picking up seven birdies and two pars on his way to a fantastic 62 that has him two shots ahead of Matthias Schmid and David Drysdale at the top of the leaderboard.
The Englishman only had one birdie on his front nine, at the first and then carded eight straight pars before hitting top form and he believes his game is heading in the right direction.
“I’ve felt like it’s been sort of trending in the right way. It just hasn’t all come together at the right point. My putting has been good and my iron play has been good, it’s been one or the other, but today it sort of all came together,” said Smith.
“So yeah, just carry on for tomorrow. More of that would be great.”
As to why he likes Galgorm so much, given he led after the opening round of last year’s Irish Open at the same venue and eventually finished seventh, Smith added: “I don’t know. I just like the layout. I think it suits me.
“I think there’s a lot of tee shots where you’ve got to hit left to right and yeah, it’s been suiting my eye so far.
“The front nine has been okay and then you sort of get your score going on the back nine, I think, with the par-fives.”
Schmid, who mixed eight birdies with two bogeys on his way to a six-under 64, is making only his second start as a professional after leaving the amateur ranks behind following his Silver Medal win at The Open at Royal St George’s.
The German admits he’s had to get used to playing in the bigger events, but revealed that getting invites to them as an amateur has helped with the transition.
“It took me a while to transition. I had four, five starts before that, but it takes a while to get used to that and I think it’s very important to get some starts as an amateur so you see what you need to do out here or what you need to improve maybe,” said the 23-year-old.
“For me it was very helpful to get to play a couple of events before it gets serious now and I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve got.”
Somewhat suprisingly, the scoring was much better at Galgorm than at Massereene, where the best outing of the day was a four-under 66 from England’s Eddie Pepperell, making McKibbin’s 67 the second best round at the second course.
England’s Andy Sullivan, the highest ranked player in the field, opened with a 67 at Galgorm, while at Massereene, defending champion Jack Senior shot a two-under 68, 2020 Irish Open champion John Catlin had a 69 and South Africa’s Justin Harding shot a 70.