GRANITEVILLE — It didn't take much for Tom McKibbin to get his mind right after a rough finish Friday in the second round at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
It was a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 17th that took McKibbin, the first-round leader after a scorching 64 Thursday, not just out of the lead but out of the final group heading into Saturday.
Still, he was only two shots back after a 75, and he knew it wouldn't take much to make up that deficit.
"I think just knowing what can happen around this course and how shots can be dropped so quickly," he said. "Two shots wasn't very many – you can get that within a hole around here. Just to stay patient, and just whatever happens happens."
The Northern Irishman posted a solid 71 Saturday to reach 6 under as the field came back to him. He took the lead for good with an up-and-down birdie on 15, then waited as his challengers couldn't get potential tying birdies to drop on 18.
McKibbin won by a shot to become the ninth player to wear the Junior Invitational's gold jacket.
As has been the case the last few years, it was anything but an easy victory.
McKibbin and Maxwell Moldovan, playing in the penultimate group, were tied for the lead at 6 under through 14, with Joseph Pagdin making a charge ahead of them and Ricky Castillo in the hunt behind them.
McKibbin's birdie on 15 was indicative of how he won the tournament over the final nine holes – his second shot went long of the green, and he pulled out a wedge and got it up and down for the birdie. He estimated after the round that he hit only two of the final nine greens in regulation, but he still played those holes in 1 under thanks to his chipping.
He was disappointed in his chip shot on 17, when he missed the green with a wedge after crushing a drive down the right side of the fairway. He was in a similar spot in the left rough as Moldovan, and each had a delicate chip with the green running hard toward the water.
McKibbin just wanted to keep his chip on the green. He did, but it was well short. Moldovan's however, came back to him and rested on the fringe. Both settled for bogey, which meant no lost ground for McKibbin.
Until Karl Vilips chipped in for birdie right behind him.
That got Vilips, who also eagled 15, within a shot of the lead, and he stood in the 18th fairway waiting for McKibbin and Moldovan to putt.
McKibbin safely two-putted for par, but Moldovan missed a mid-range birdie attempt that would've tied it at 6.
That left it all up to Vilips, whose approach into the green bounced hard and settled on the slope behind the green. He needed to chip in to tie, but left it short and ended up with a double bogey.
Moldovan (71) was alone in second at 5 under, followed by Castillo (73) at 4 under. Pagdin (69), Vilips (74) and 36-hole leader Nick Dunlap (76) tied for fourth at 3 under.
McKibbin looked like the player to beat Thursday with his 64 that even included a bogey. The triple on 17 brought him back to Earth on Friday, but he overcame that to win – just like Joaquin Niemann did two years ago.
The course wasn't playing nearly as easy as it did in the first round, nor was it as windy as it was in the second round. But the firmness of the greens produced some similar scores, as only three players broke 70 Saturday.
"The pins were pretty tricky, so you just really had to stay patient out there and take your chances when you could," McKibbin said.
One big chance came at the par-4 13th, which McKibbin birdied to regain a share of the lead. That erased the bogey he made on 12, and he said it was a key point in his round.
"Unbelievable," said McKibbin, who before the tournament started was presented with the Paul S. Simon Character Award. "It's the biggest win I've ever had, anyway. To do it here is even more special."