REUTERS: Matthew Fitzpatrick, seeking to be a European Tour winner for the fifth straight year, took a step in the right direction when he earned a one-stroke halfway lead over Joachim Hansen at the Italian Open on Friday.
Englishman Fitzpatrick carded six-under-par 65 to edge ahead of Dane Hansen (66) in the second round at Olgiata Golf Club in Rome, while first-round pacesetter Tapio Pulkkanen slipped four back with a pedestrian 72.
The event lost much of its star power, however, when Francesco Molinari, Shane Lowry and Paul Casey missed the cut.
Fitzpatrick said his iron play had clicked into gear early and set the stage for his stellar round.
“I figured out something with my irons after the second hole," he said. "I only missed one green after that".
The 25-year-old from Sheffield recorded his first European Tour victory in 2015 and added two more in 2016 before notching up one in each of the last two years.
Should he win on Sunday, Fitzpatrick would become the youngest six-times winner on tour since Lee Westwood more than two decades ago.
“When you're in these kind of positions, it's always exciting," Fitzpatrick said. "
Hansen was helped considerably by an eagle at the par-four sixth.
The journeyman has not won in 123 starts on tour but was buoyed up by a good finish at the Spanish Open last week.
"Finishing fourth last week was just what I needed to relax a bit and set some new targets," he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina)