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Northern Ireland's Tom McKibbin won the ninth Junior Invitational at Sage Valley by a shot over Maxwell Moldovan. He returns to the area in mid-March to defend his title.

The champ will be back at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

Northern Ireland's Tom McKibbin, who overcame a two-shot deficit to win last year's title, headlines the initial field for the 10th edition of the Junior Invitational, scheduled for March 12-14.

McKibbin, a Class of 2021 member who verbally committed two years ago to play collegiately at the University of Florida, will be joined at Sage Valley by several of the players who were chasing him last year – last year's runner-up and three players who tied for fourth all return.

Ohio State signee Maxwell Moldovan, the fifth-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings, finished a shot behind McKibbin after the pair shared the lead down the stretch. Another two shots behind Moldovan were three players who will be atop this year's list of favorites: top-ranked Karl Vilips, of Australia, who needed a birdie on 18 last year to force a playoff but made double bogey; Nick Dunlap, an Alabama commit for 2022 from Greer, who took the 36-hole lead with a 3-under 69 in high winds; and second-ranked Joe Pagdin, a Florida commit for the Class of 2020 from England, who made a final-round charge to get into the championship hunt. 

That's only a small percentage of another world-class field for the Junior Invitational. 

Three more top-10 Golfweek/Sagarin players, No. 6 Ben James (Virginia commit), No. 9 Andrew Goodman (Oklahoma commit) and No. 10 Bo Jin (Oklahoma State commit), will be joining them, giving the field six of the top 10 – and Thursday's list is only the initial field. Twenty-five of the Golfweek/Sagarin top 50 are already committed, and plenty of spots are still open in the field of 54.

“Our 10th anniversary event is shaping up to once again be the most prestigious field in junior golf,” said Pete Davis, chairman of the Sage Valley Junior Invitational Sports Foundation, in a statement. “Moving play to mid-March means the course will be in absolute perfect condition, making for an incredible competition.”

Moving to mid-March also should avoid scheduling conflicts with high school tournaments and season-ending events for the players.

Other returners to the Junior Invitational field include: Duke commit Kelly Chinn, Virginia commit George Duangmanee, Conor Gough, Arizona State signee Jeewon Park, Arizona State commit Luke Potter, Vanderbilt commit Gordon Sargent, Arizona State commit Preston Summerhays, Vanderbilt commit Jackson Van Paris, San Diego commit Andi Xu, and Duke signee Jimmy Zheng.

Newcomers include: Auburn signee John Marshall Butler, Southern Cal signee Ethan Chung, Notre Dame signee Tucker Clark, Cal signee Aaron Du, Wilmer Edero, Goodman, San Diego State signee Jack Heath, Brock Hoover, James, Oregon commit Ian Maspat, Florida State signee Brett Roberts, Bishop England's Austin Scott, Duke signee Ian Siebers, and Washington commit Taehoon Song.

Kyle Dawson covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @ItsKyleDawson.