Tom McKibbin follows in the footsteps of his childhood hero Rory McIlroy with first Tour triumph

Tom McKibbin has been tipped for superstardom since he was in his early teens, and the comparisons with Rory McIlroy will only grow now after he won the Porsche European Open to become Irish golf’s youngest tour winner since his fellow Holywood clubman won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009.

While it is unfair to compare the 20-year-old Newtownabbey rookie with a generational talent like McIlroy, his victory in Hamburg came in just his 26th DP World Tour start – 15 fewer than McIlroy needed to win at 19 in his second season in his 41st start as a professional.

McKibbin has always treated such comparisons as a compliment rather than a burden, and whatever his destiny, he proved at Green Eagle Golf Courses he has the game to forge a spectacular career of his own.

Not only did he emerge from a six-way tie for the 54-hole lead to win by two shots on nine-under par thanks to a three-under 70, he did it in style.

Germany’s Max Kieffer and Marcel Siem were battling to end a 15-year wait for a home winner, but they had to settle for second alongside France’s Julien Guerrier as McKibbin proved he has the stuff of champions.

He birdied the fourth, seventh and ninth to go two clear, but while he bogeyed the 11th and 13th, then saw Siem draw level as he headed down the stretch, he made a great sand save at the 14th and chipped dead for birdie at the par-five 15th.

Kieffer birdied the 18th to set the target at seven-under and was soon joined by Siem, leaving McKibbin needing to make par at the 18th to claim his maiden win.

But he played the hole like his boyhood hero McIlroy, bravely drawing a 205-yard five-iron around a tree to around seven feet to set up a stress-free two-putt birdie.

“I knew going out it was such a hard golf course that you didn’t have to force loads of birdies, and there wouldn’t be too many people going too low,” he said. “That helped a bit. I played it the exact same (as the first three days) and fortunately played a little bit better.

“I saw after nine I had a one or two-shot lead, then by 14 I had a one-shot lead, and I knew with three par fives in the last four anything could happen. So I just tried to keep my head down.”

As for that wonder shot on the 18th, he discussed his options with veteran caddie David McNeilly and decided to go for the green rather than lay up and leave himself a tricky third.

“I asked my caddie Dave if it would be easier to hit the second shot right of the green and then chip down, I knew I had to hit a straight shot and I’d be 10-15 yards right of the green,” he said. “So I took a club I knew if I started right half of the green and it turned over the water wasn’t in play and if I mis-hit it it would have gone straight. It looked like a scary shot, but in my mind I knew there was margin for error.”

He was thrilled to win in front of his father Robin and prove to himself he had what it takes to win on tour.

“It means a lot; it’s what I’ve worked hard for all my life, so to have it today is pretty special,” he said. “It probably won’t sink in until tomorrow, but to have my Dad here was pretty special; to win in front of him was amazing.

“I’ve learned that I’m good enough to win. I always thought I was, but to prove it today was pretty special. I guess I’ve learned a lot from failures, missing cuts by a shot and missing things slightly. So to take those things I’ve learned and put them into play was nice.”

McKibbin won €315,657 for his victory and jumped 69 places to 23rd in the Race to Dubai, putting himself in position to win one of 10 PGA Tour cards at the end of the season.

He’s also expected to move up from 335th to around 150th in the world and to around 33rd in both Ryder Cup qualifying lists.

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