Tom McKibbin gets redemption, wins 2019 Sage Valley Junior Invitational

Photo: Darren Carroll

Tom McKibbin gets redemption, wins 2019 Sage Valley Junior Invitational

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Tom McKibbin gets redemption, wins 2019 Sage Valley Junior Invitational

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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Tom McKibbin stood on the 17th tee Saturday with some pretty harsh recent memories to suppress. It was at this hole the day before where he went from leading the Sage Valley Junior Invitational to falling two strokes back after hitting it in the water and carding a triple bogey.

McKibbin’s answer to those demons? Rip a drive down the middle of the fairway.

Nursing a 1-shot lead over Maxwell Moldovan, McKibbin eschewed the 3-wood he hit on the hole Friday and crushed a driver 314 yards down the center, a full 47 paces ahead of Moldovan.

Playing away from the water on his approach, McKibbin walked off the 17th with a safe bogey as did Moldovan and was able to finish a wild week for what he described as the “biggest win I’ve ever had.”

LEADERBOARD: Sage Valley Junior Invitational

McKibbin, a 2021 grad from Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, closed with a 1-under 71 Saturday to beat Moldovan by one shot and Ricky Castillo by two.

“I probably only hit two greens on the back nine today, so chipping was class this week,” McKibbin said just moments before donning the champions’ gold jacket. “Just knowing what can happen around this course, how shots can be dropped so quickly, you just have to be patient.”

McKibbin needed everything from his wedge. Starting the final round two shots behind Nicholas Dunlap, McKibbin did not make his first birdie until the par-5 10th. A bogey at the par-3 12th set him back as Moldovan had surged into the lead with three birdies over a 4-hole stretch through No. 11.

McKibbin’s birdie at 13 pulled him into a tie with Moldovan and the two faced good birdie opportunities at the par-5 15th. McKibbin chipped to about 3 feet while Moldovan played out of a bunker to around 6 feet. After Moldovan failed to convert, McKibbin calmly rolled his in to take the lead for good.

“Standing in the bunker I thought I hit it to 2-3 feet, then when I got up there it was 6 feet,” Moldovan said. “I thought I hit a good putt, it just didn’t move like I thought it would.”

At the par-3 16th, McKibbin pushed his tee shot right of the green while Moldovan hit a great shot near the hole that refused to hold and went 30 feet past. Again, McKibbin was cool with the wedge to put him inside 10 feet and he converted the par. Moldovan’s birdie effort just missed.

Tom McKibbin, 2019 Sage Valley Junior Invitational champion. Photo: Darren Carroll

“I played solid all three days,” Moldovan said. “I played good yesterday in the wind then today with all the pressure that comes with playing in the last couple of groups of a big event like this I thought I performed well.”

Castillo, playing in his third and final Sage Valley event, went away early Saturday before making a run on the back nine. A string of bogeys at 7, 8 and 9 seemingly took him out of contention, but he rallied with birdies at 11, 14 and 15 to pull within a shot of McKibbin. His tee shot on 17 found the fairway bunker and he was unable to salvage par, falling two shots behind.

“It was good to be in contention,” said Castillo, a resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., who will play in the fall at the University of Florida. “Obviously I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but it was still a pretty good tournament for me.”

McKibbin finished the tournament at 64-75-71—210 while Moldovan placed alone in second at 69-71-71—211 as the only player in the field to break par all three days.

Castillo finished third for the second straight year at 69-70-73—212, one shot ahead of the trio of Joseph Pagdin (69-75-69—213), Karl Vilips (70-69-74—213) and Dunlap (68-69-76—213).

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