Home favourite Marco Crespi joined a three-way tie for the lead at the halfway point of the Challenge Provincia di Varesi after a four under par second round of 66.
The 33 year old joined Argentine Daniel Vancsik, who impressed with a 65, and Scotsman Raymond Russell, who signed for a 67, on ten under par, while Switzerland’s Raphael De Sousa carded a 67 to be one shot back.
Crespi has missed the cut in his last three tournaments following his maiden Challenge Tour win in the Telenet Trophy last month, but spent time practising at Golf Club Varese last week to prepare, which is looking like a shrewd decision.
“I’ve been playing very badly ever since I won, so last week I took a week off to work with my coach and practise hard here,” he said. “Fortunately the preparation is paying off.
“I played very well on the front nine. I’m not doing anything spectacular, just trying to keep the ball on the fairways, which is what you have to do on this course as the rough is punishing. I missed a couple of putts on the back nine but overall I’m very happy to be leading the tournament going into the weekend.
“It would be great to win in my home country, and I believe I can do it if I just keep playing steadily.”
Russell’s second round was more of a battle than his first, and he was delighted to remain in contention.
“I struggled on the front nine and didn’t play particularly well, but hung in there and made a few good up and downs,” said the 39 year old, who missed almost all of last season with a debilitating virus. “That was the best it could have been.
“Fortunately I gathered myself and got it together on the back nine and had a good finish. I’m very happy with that considering how I played on the front nine. It was damage limitation at that point.
“It’s a great golf course but it’s extremely hot. Not only is it difficult to concentrate, the ball is travelling a little bit further so you have to factor that in.
“It’s great to give myself a chance, that’s all I’m trying to do. There’s a lot of golf to be played between now and Sunday afternoon.”
Vancsik set the pace in the morning with his second consecutive round of 65, a feat he attributes to simply staying patient.
He said: “For 11 holes I played very well, but on the 12th I made a mistake and dropped a shot, and for the last six holes it felt like I was fighting the course. I lost my concentration a bit, which is the reason my score is not lower.
“The last few weeks I’ve been playing much better. The problem is that when I miss one shot it usually ends up in a double bogey. But this week if I’ve missed a shot I’ve managed to save par or at the worst make a bogey. That’s the difference.
“I’ve been working very hard with my coach for the last two weeks, working on not just my swing but on my focus, concentration and patience. On the Challenge Tour you have to be very patient. There have been times when I’ve been in a good position and thought about winning, and then everything has gone wrong. I’m trying hard to take it shot by shot and not think too far ahead.”
Alessandro Tadini is another player trying not to get ahead of himself, but he has the advantage of local knowledge, having grown up playing the course.
A second successive 66 leaves him well placed at eight under, although he admits he is trying to quell the excitement of his army of supporters.
He said: “I know the course very well because I’ve played here all my life. I know where the good places are to hit the ball and where not to hit it. I am very familiar with the greens too, so if my putting is good I know I will hole many putts.
“It would be fantastic to win here. I have many, many family and friends here this week so it is already very special to be playing a Challenge Tour event in my town. But to win the title would be a dream come true. Everyone wants me to do it but I’m trying not to think about it too much because it will be very hard and I’ll have to continue playing very well.”