SIMON THORNTON led the chase for the bumper €64,000 first prize entering the weekend at the Kazakhstan Open ... but it's never over at the Nurtau GC in Almaty until the champion sings.
When wedding singer Stephen Browne from Dublin won the inaugural Kazakhstan Open in 2005, he regaled his audience at the prize-giving ceremony with a rousing rendition of 'Danny Boy'.
No doubt, Bradford-born Thornton (34), who has taken Irish citizenship since settling in Newcastle, Co Down, will be happy for his clubs to do all the singing in this €400,000 event, the richest regular tournament on Challenge Tour schedule.
Victory tomorrow will guarantee Thornton a European Tour exemption for 2012 and he played well enough in his opening rounds of 67 and 66 to suggest he's well able to take the autumn heat of Almaty.
Thornton birdied four out of the five opening holes yesterday and completed the front nine in 31 as he eased to 11-under overnight, two clear of Norway's Knut Borsheim (65) and Chris Lloyd of England (68).
Colm Moriarty is tied for 28th on two-under after his second-round 74, while Niall Kearney made the cut mark of level-par, despite dropping shots on the final two holes of his 72.
Irish run out of steam
A week that began so promisingly for Ireland's women golfers at Hillside on the Lancashire coast ended in disappointment when they were well beaten by England yesterday.
The English romped home 8-1 to complete the Triple Crown and lift the prestigious TH Miller Cup for the first time since 2007.
Ireland, who had started the week with a victory over 2010 champions Scotland, did not win a game yesterday and they had to be content with third spot behind England and Wales.
Cork's Gillian O'Leary and Charlene Reid of Royal Portrush secured a foursomes half with Charlotte Ellis and Charlotte Wild, but teenage European champion Lisa Maguire and Paula Grant and Louise Coffey and Karen Delaney lost their games.
Gillen's mixed bag
MARTINA GILLEN endured a roller-coaster ride to the finish of her first-round 71 at the Prague Masters yesterday. The Dublin native was tied-34th on one-under at the Albatross Resort when she followed a brace of birdies on 16 and 17 with a bogey six at 18. She is five shots off the lead of Dane Marlene Jorgensen (66) and one ahead of fellow Irishwoman Rebecca Codd (72).