Rory McIlroy produced a sprint finish in more ways than one to snatch the lead midway through Ryder Cup teammate Matt Fitzpatrick at the DS Automobiles Italian Open.
McIlroy’s group looked unlikely to complete their second round after taking three hours to play nine holes, but covered the back nine in two hours and 15 minutes to finish in near darkness at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
Former Open champion Francesco Molinari even ran from the 17th green to the 18th tee to ensure the group avoided an early return to the course on Saturday morning, with play suspended just two minutes later.
McIlroy birdied the 16th and 18th to complete an eventful 66 containing an eagle, six birdies and three bogeys, a halfway total of nine under par giving the world number two a one-stroke lead over the champion. US Open Fitzpatrick.
“I probably saved myself about three hours in bed tomorrow after being so happy about it and obviously looking forward to the weekend now,” McIlroy said.
“I snuck in a few times today and was able to play some good shots to get out of it and got the putts afterwards.
“Fitz had an incredible year, (winning) his first major championship and he really became one of the best players in the world. I can’t wait to play him here this weekend.”
Fitzpatrick had to complete the last three holes of his first round on Friday after Thursday’s weather delay and birdied two and bogeyed to complete an opening 65.
The world number 11 then started his second round on the back nine and bugged the 10th, but followed that up with five straight birdies to open a four-stroke lead.
However, Fitzpatrick dropped shots on 16 and 17 and made his first par of the day on 18, before covering the first nine at level par with two birdies and two bogeys for a 69.
“Pretty incoherent really,” was how Fitzpatrick summed up his day.
“I played some really good stuff, (made) a few sloppy mistakes which was obviously disappointing, but a lot of birdies which was always positive. Starting the weekend in the position I’m in, I’m very happy.”
England’s Tom Lewis and Tyrrell Hatton both shot 65 to sit at seven and five under par respectively.
Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who will lead Europe’s bid to win back the trophy at the same venue next year, is also five under after a 68 that included a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball.
Donald was three under par the day the incident happened on his seventh hole of the day, leading to a bogey triple seven.
“I did something that I don’t think I’ve ever done in golf,” explained the former world number one. “I hit the wrong ball on 16, which was frustrating.
“I hit a bad tee shot left in the rough. The spotter went straight for the ball and I just assumed it was mine and mine was a few feet away from it. It was an expensive seven.”