GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, ITALY (AP) – Rory McIlroy and United States Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick are getting quite comfortable on next year’s Ryder Cup course.
Europe captain Luke Donald, meanwhile, made a novice’s error after hitting into the thick rough at the Marco Simone club outside Rome and then hitting the wrong ball, earning himself a two-stroke penalty.
McIlroy (66) produced an eagle for the second consecutive day and Fitzpatrick (69) had five straight birdies in the second round on Friday as they stood one-two, respectively, near the midpoint of the Italian Open. The round was suspended because of darkness for the second straight day.
McIlroy – playing in Italy for the first time as a pro specifically to gain familiarity with the Ryder Cup course – was at nine-under 133 overall with Fitzpatrick one stroke behind.
“Fitz has had an unbelievable year, first major championship and he’s obviously matured into one of the best players in the world,” McIlroy said.
“Looking forward to going up against him over the weekend.”
After McIlroy took a share of the overnight clubhouse lead with an opening 67 before play was cut short on Thursday, Fitzpatrick had a strong finish early on Friday to take the lead after the first round with a 65.
Later in the day, it was McIlroy who surged ahead as he sank an eagle putt on the par-five 12th and celebrated with a slight wave – unlike his arms-above-the-head reaction when he holed out an approach shot for an eagle on the par-four third a day earlier.
Fitzpatrick, who claimed his first major title at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in June, also tied for fifth at the PGA Championship. At 28, he’s a veteran of the European tour and this is the seventh time he’s playing the Italian Open, with a best finish of second in 2019.
“I love Italy,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that he’s a football fan. “I came in December to watch Roma.”
Donald struggled to a triple bogey on the driveable par-four 16th when he hit his tee shot into the rough and then played the wrong ball.
“A first for me,” Donald wrote on Twitter. “Poor drive in deep rough, spotter goes straight to ball, play the shot and then realise I’ve played the wrong ball. Same red Titleist 4, just not my markings on the ball.”
Donald, however, recovered by making birdies on five of the next eight holes to finish in contention at five under.
Defending champion Nicolai Højgaard (70) also remained in contention at five under, with 10th-ranked Viktor Hovland (68) a stroke further back. Tom Lewis was third at seven under and Victor Perez stood fourth at six under.
Local player Filippo Celli continued to impress in his pro debut after a sterling amateur career, scoring an eagle with a wedge shot on number 12 to finish at one under and make the cut.