|-9 R McIlroy (NI); -8 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); -seven T Lewis (Eng); -6 V Perez (Fra); -5 T Hatton (Eng), J Smith (Eng), S Garcia Rodriguez (Spa), L Donald (Eng), J Luiten (Neth), L Herbert (Aus); -4 N Hoejgaard (Den), A Wu (Chi), S Jamieson (Scot), O Bekker (SA), M Schneider (Ger), A Rozner (Fra), A Quiros (Spa), K Kitayama (USA), T Pulkkanen (End), R Roussel (Fra) after 15|
|Others selected: -3 M Southgate (Eng), R MacIntyre (Scot), A Fitzpatrick (Eng), V Hovland (Nor); -2 E Pepperell (Eng); -1 F Molinari (Italy); Level A Sullivan (Eng), T Bjorn (Den); +1 N Kearney (Ireland); +4 J Caldwell after 13 years Missed cut +4 P Dunne (Ireland), C Sharvin (NI)|
Rory McIlroy sprinted on the 18th as darkness fell to card a closing birdie that gave him a one-stroke lead halfway through the Italian Open.
The world number two’s five-under par 66 left him nine under and one ahead of first-round leader Matt Fitzpatrick.
US Open champion Fitzpatrick looked set to hold on to the lead with eight under, despite a scrappy game in his 69.
But McIlroy’s eagle on the 12th and three other birdies – despite a bogey on the 15th – saw him advance by one.
While McIlroy, defending champion Nicolai Hojgaard and their other playing partner Francesco Molinari hit the gas late, several competitors will have to complete their second lap on Saturday morning.
However, it looks like the cup will fall one step above club Marco Simone of Rome, who will host the Ryder Cup next year.
McIlroy produces superb early breakouts
McIlroy, a four-time major winner, struggled early on as he needed great escapes to save par from a thick, rough green on the second and fourth holes.
As he rolled in a six-foot putt for a birdie on the fifth, he kicked off after a missed green on the eight and his gain on the ninth was immediately squandered on the next as well.
But another sensational throw birdied the par-four 11th before his eagle on the next – after a superb long iron approach from 15ft – suddenly moved him within a shot of Ryder Cup teammate Fitzpatrick.
The Northern Irishman equalized by rolling in a 25ft birdie putt on the 14th and while a drawn approach led to his third bogey of the day on the 15th, McIlroy drove the par-four afterwards to agree with Fitzpatrick ahead of his up and down in the waning light at 18, he took a one shot lead.
McIlroy, who clinched a third PGA Tour FedEx Cup title last month, also tops the DP World Tour standings and a victory this week would increase his advantage at the top of the standings.
Fitzpatrick, who completed an opening 65 early Friday morning that put him ahead of former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and Dutchman Joost Luiten, lamented “inconsistent” play in his second round.
A few early birdies increased the US Open champion’s lead as he moved to eight under only to bug three out of four holes from the seventh.
The England star, whose brother Alex shares 21st place on three under, responded with five consecutive birdies to take a four-stroke lead as he stood on the 16th tee, but then dropped back-to-back shots before failing to take advantage of the par-five last holes after missing the green with his approach.
“I played some really good stuff, (made) a few sloppy mistakes which was obviously disappointing, but a lot of birdies which was always a positive,” the 28-year-old told Sky Sports.
Fitzpatrick’s compatriot Tom Lewis is in third place with seven under after shooting a 65, with Frenchman Victor Perez a shot further.
Tyrrell Hatton’s 65 earned him a share of fifth on five under in a group that includes European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, whose 68 included a triple bogey in the 16th after playing the wrong ball from the rough.