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Strong finish has Italian ace Di Nitto out in front heading into weekend at Northern Ireland Open

Galbraith flies the local flag as last survivor at Galgorm Castle

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Up and down: John Ross Galbraith made the cut despite an inconsistent day at Galgorm

Up and down: John Ross Galbraith made the cut despite an inconsistent day at Galgorm

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Up and down: John Ross Galbraith made the cut despite an inconsistent day at Galgorm

Six birdies on his inward nine saw Italy's Enrico di Nitto shoot up the leaderboard and take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle.

Di Nitto was sensational after the turn, rolling in four birdies in his first five holes after the ninth, before finishing with another two birdies at the 17th and 18th to card a four-under 66 and take the overall lead at six under.

The World No.714 did lose his bogey-free streak with a dropped shot at the par-four second and he gave away another shot at the 15th, but overall it's been a strong two rounds from the Italian.

Di Nitto's lead is just a solitary shot, however, with Iceland's Gudmundur Kristjansson and England's Robert Dinwiddie tucked in close behind him at five under-par.

The best round of another really tricky day at Galgorm went to England's Ryan Evans, who carded a five-under 65 to get himself into a five-man group at four under-par overall, just two back.

"Pretty tidy round. Played nicely. Obviously got off to quite a fast start. Game just felt good, then unfortunately I had back-to-back three-putts at 12 and 13. Stopped the momentum a bit," said Evans.

"I love the course. I'd say it's one of the more challenging Challenge Tour venues. You have to play good golf.

"Whatever happens at the weekend the winner will have to have played well for four days."

The local challenge faded on day two, however, with only one of the six Northern Irishmen in the field making the halfway cut, which fell at three-over-par - that honour went to John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) who, at level-par after back-to-back rounds of 70, cannot be discounted from the tournament.

"I was two over with three to play but managed to birdie 16 and 18, happy to finish well," said Galbraith, who shot five birdies and five bogeys in his second round.

"It was another tough day, breezy with some torrential showers. We got caught with a bad one on the 15th.

"The rough is so juicy you just have to keep it straight. If you're off line at all you're making bogey or worse. It was a pretty up and down day for me, seemed like I made birdie then gave it back on the next hole, one of those days.

"Anything can happen over the weekend around this course. I've done the hard part making it into the weekend, so I'll just go and free-wheel. I'm playing well, no reason why I can't make a run at it. Nothing to lose."

Holywood amateur Tom McKibbin was the next closest to making it, but he was one shot too many at four-over after a 73 on day two, which included an agonising bogey on the par-five 18th in a two-over back nine.

Tournament ambassador Michael Hoey carded a hugely respectable 70 in his second round, but a 76 on day one left him too much to do as he missed the cut at six-over, while Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Ruaidhri McGee and Galgorm amateur Joshua Hill also bowed out early.

From an Irish perspective, only Conor O'Rourke (-1) and Niall Kearney (+1) made the cut.

On the European Tour, in blustery conditions at the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, Jonathan Caldwell (Clandeboye) made the cut at six-over-par, but Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass) suffered a horror finish, double-bogeying the 15th and 17th, then bogeying the 18th to miss the cut by one at nine-over.

America's John Catlin leads on three-under-par, with Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Connor Syme (Scotland) and Pablo Larrazabal (Spain) tied for second at one-under.

Belfast Telegraph