Same sad tale as Michael Hoey fails to make cut
But three Ulster aces are dreaming of a big finish
For the second year running, Northern Ireland Open Challenge ambassador (and tournament favourite) Michael Hoey has missed the cut.
The Belfast golfer looked as though he would be poised to make something of a charge over the weekend at Galgorm Castle when he reached the turn in level par in yesterday's second round.
But a torrid time on his way back to the clubhouse included a double-bogey six at the penultimate hole, taking him seven over for the nine holes, and four over for the tournament, a couple of shots outside the cut mark.
Unusually for a professional tournament the leading score at the end of the first and second days was exactly the same – and is still held by Swede Joakim Lagergren, who could manage only a level par 71 after his opening 62 set a new course record on Thursday.
That had the effect of bunching up the field with three Ulstermen – Jonny Caldwell, Gareth Shaw and amateur Dermot McElroy still right in contention. Caldwell is five behind on four under after a two over 73 yesterday with Shaw one further back after his 72. Ballymena man McElroy is on two under, seven off the lead, after his two over 73.
Also through to the weekend are another of the four amateurs in the field, John-Ross Galbraith and Portrush man Alan Dunbar. Galbraith followed up his opening 70 with a solid one over 72.
Dunbar squeezed into the final two rounds right on the mark after a three over 74 yesterday, a birdie on the last making up for a double-bogey six on the 17th.
It was a much more difficult day for scoring as the wind howled but Lagergren held firm at the top, birdying the final hole to enter the weekend one shot clear of the pack on nine under par.
With tens of thousands of spectators expected at the weekend, the 22-year-old from Stockholm is relishing the opportunity to exhibit his skills in front of some of the most knowledgeable golf fans in the world.
"Hopefully we'll see big crowds tomorrow, it would be really fun," he said. "They have been great so far, the crowds are really good. They know the game of golf, they behave like a crowd should and they are very knowledgeable."
Englishman Steven Brown was one of those to close the gap at the top from two to one as he signed for a two under par 69 to move to eight under par, in outright second place.
The former Walker Cup star has been on imperious form of late, his tied sixth place finish at last week's lucrative Rolex Trophy the latest of three top 10 finishes in his last five appearances, and he was delighted with how he dealt with the testing conditions.
"It was very windy this morning," said the 27 year old, who fired three birdies in his opening four holes having teed off at the tenth.
"I knew it wasn't going to be nice after looking at the forecast but it was cold early on as well as windy.
"It will be fun with all the people out watching at the weekend. Everyone knows that this tournament is a fun one because of all the people watching. It's a great atmosphere so I can't wait until the weekend."
Frenchman Thomas Linard, a winner already on the Challenge Tour this year at the D+D REAL Czech Challenge, carded a three under par 68 to move to seven under par and join American Dodge Kemmer (69) in a share of third place.
Three-time European Tour winner Kenneth Ferrie was one shot further back alongside promising South African Brandon Stone, while two more former European Tour winners, Ferrie's English compatriot Ross McGowan and Welshman Rhys Davies, were both within five shots of the lead heading into moving day.
Missing the cut alongside Hoey were seven other Ulstermen, including Reeve Whitson, who has endured a torrid time since turning pro earlier in the summer.
He must have harboured thoughts of ending a run of missed cuts when he birdied the 12th and 16th holes yesterday, but those hopes were dashed with three dropped shots in the final two holes, including a double-bogey seven to finish.
Ardglass amateur Cormac Sharvin and Belfast's Damian Mooney were unlucky to miss out, one shot over the cut at three over par.
Both men were two over for their rounds yesterday, consecutive bgoeys on the 16th and 17th proving Sharvin's undoing, having played the previous 14 holes in level par.
Derry man Michael McGeady couldn't build on his solid opening level par round, as he slumped to a 75 yesterday to finish on four over.
Noel Murray misses out after rounds of 77 and 73, Warrenpoint amateur Colm Campbell finished on 11 over with rounds of 77 and 76, while Matt McAlpin was one shot worse off with rounds of 74 and 80.