Matt Fitzpatrick claimed the halfway lead at the Italian Open as Justin Rose, Andrew Johnston and Graeme McDowell all moved into contention on day two.
Fitzpatrick fired a seven-birdie 65 to top the leaderboard on 10 under par, snatching the clubhouse lead away from long-time pacesetter Joachim B Hansen, while Rose, Johnston and McDowell head into the weekend just three behind.
The likes of Matt Wallace and Tyrrell Hatton are also nicely placed after 36 holes, but there was disappointment for the home fans as two-time winner Francesco Molinari bowed out along with Open champion Shane Lowry and Paul Casey.
Fitzpatrick birdied two of the first three holes either side of a bogey at the second, which proved to be his only mistake of an excellent day at Ogliata, with further birdies at the sixth and ninth taking the Englishman to the turn in 32.
The 25-year-old drew level with Hansen when he picked up shots at 14 and 15, and he soon found himself as the outright leader with a well-judged two-putt from long range for his seventh gain of the day at the penultimate hole.
“It was just a really, really solid day,” Fitzpatrick said, without a win since landing his fifth European Tour title with a successful defence of his Omega European Masters crown in Switzerland 11 months ago.
“I figured out something with my irons after the second hole, and I just needed to get a little bit more loft on it going back, something I’ve been working on since Wentworth, really. I just felt much more comfortable with my irons, and I only missed one green after that.”
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Hansen had earlier set a testing target in the clubhouse after returning an entertaining 66, highlighted by a superb hole out from the fairway for an eagle-two at the 481-yard fifth, while Rose looked set to earn at least a share of the lead until he faltered over his final two holes.
Back-to-back birdies at four and five lifted the world No 5 to nine under with four holes to play, but he blocked his approach to the eighth into water and ran up a double-bogey six, and Rose had to scramble hard to avoid dropping another shot at nine as he settled for a 69.
Shubhankar Sharma (69) and Rory Sabbatini (70) were alongside Rose on seven under after the morning session, with Johnston and McDowell making it a four-way tie for third late in the day.
‘Beef’ added a steady four-birdie 68 to his opening 67, while McDowell atoned for dropped shots at 11 and 13 with a birdie at the next before holing a great putt for eagle at 17, although he was a fraction off line with a good birdie chance on the final green as he carded a 66.
“The way I played 17 was very pleasing,” the former US Open champion said. “The 17th is a perfect example of this golf course. If you get out of position, it’s a challenging hole, but if you hit a good drive, it’s 240 to the flag with a five-wood and you can make birdies and eagles.
“I’m just enjoying myself out there. It’s a fun golf course to play, and I think it plays into sort of my type of game. You’ve got to grind it around a little bit, and I’m looking forward to being in contention this weekend.”
Wallace was one over for his second round with seven to play until he revived his challenge with a stunning run of three straight birdies followed by an eagle at the 15th, and three closing pars capped a battling 67 and a 36-hole score of six under.
Hatton, who enjoyed a light-hearted moment on the fourth when his fiancee distracted him mid-swing when exiting a toilet, fired a 69 to get to five under, while Eduardo ensured the Molinari family would be employed at the weekend as an out-of-sorts Francesco stumbled to a 76 and missed the cut by five shots.
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October 12, 2019, 11:30am