Ross Kellett and Tom Murray share the halfway lead of the Galgorm Resort & Spa Northern Ireland Open presented by Modest! Golf after both tackling very different conditions in Ballymena.
Out in the morning, Scotland’s Kellett played in rain reminiscent of his native highlands, his birdie-birdie finish taking him to eight under par after an impressive five under par second round of 66.
Murray’s round, by contrast, was mostly in sunshine, though a stiffer breeze had picked up in the afternoon, but the Englishman’s second successive 67 took him into a share of the lead at Galgorm Castle.
Kellett finished in the top 20 on his last outing in Sweden two weeks ago and he acknowledged that, with the European Challenge Tour season now beyond the halfway point, he needs a strong result soon.
“I played pretty solid, in horrible conditions,” said the 29 year old. “It was blustery, cold, showers on and off – Scottish conditions you might say, and it always seems to be like this at some stage in the week when you come here.
“I was up there in Sweden but didn’t quite have the Sunday I wanted after a 64 on the Saturday – I took a lot from that, despite some poor play on the Sunday, and I had a week off last week so I came here refreshed and ready to go again.
“I’ve not really been up there that much this year and there’s no shying away from the fact that we’re past halfway in the season now and it’s the same for everybody, we all need to get going.
“I’ve had some alright results but no sparkling results so I definitely need to kick on from here and make sure I can look forward to the rest of the season.”
Leading the tournament will not mean much, however, come tomorrow evening, when a second cut will see only the top 24 make it through to ‘Shootout Sunday,’ a ground-breaking new format for this event.
A series of head-to-head knock-out stroke play matches will ultimately decide the winner, with the top eight after the third round seeded straight through into the second round of Sunday matches, and Kellett is a supporter of the innovation being shown by the organisers this week.
“It’s different but it’s a nice format, mixing it up a bit, which is great,” he said. “There’s not a lot you can do until after 54 holes and just take it from there – it’s a nice place to be at the top of the leaderboard but at the moment it doesn’t really mean overly much and tomorrow is a new day.
“I’ve got to get through tomorrow first and then worry about Sunday once I get there, then worry about what the draw is. It’s a great thing because we don’t get that much of it, so the aim is to be playing on Sunday as it’s going to be exciting.
“We love coming here, it’s such a well-supported event, the golf course is perfect and it’s a great event – Sunday with a lot of people watching and quick matches should be really exciting.”
Murray, meanwhile, knows how to win on Irish soil, his sole Challenge Tour victory to date having come two years ago at the Irish Challenge, and he too is looking forward to the weekend’s contest.
“I don’t know what it is about Ireland but whether it’s south of the border or here up north, it seems to bring out the best in me,” said the 27 year old.
“The course set up here is probably the best of the year and it feels like a European Tour event, so that helps boost everything, and everything around the event is so good, and I’m playing well and putting well, the greens are perfect, so it’s so far so good.
“I’ve been playing alright this year, nothing terrible but nothing fantastic, so you’d always back yourself to have a really good week at some stage.
“I was talking to Dominic Foos today on the course about the Shootout Sunday and we were saying how it’s hard, because at the moment it’s just playing like a normal tournament, so we don’t know what to expect really.
“You’ve just got to approach tomorrow how you normally would and go and try to win the tournament, all the boring stuff, shot by shot, then see where we are come Sunday and see what happens.”
Lukas Nemecz is one shot back in third place while Emilio Cuartero Blanco shot a six under par 65, the joint-low round of the week, to take a share of fourth place alongside Thomas Linard, Matthew Nixon, Victor Riu and Darius van Driel.
Overnight co-leader Gary King struggled on Day Two, his five over par 76 taking him to the cut mark of level par – 73 players will contest the third round, with a sudden death play-off after play tomorrow should there be a tie for the top 24 places.