Francesco Molinari (Getty Images)
Francesco Molinari set the halfway target at Wentworth Club after an intriguing second day of the BMW PGA Championship.
The Italian reached six under par in cold, wet and difficult conditions, but Ryder Cup team-mate Luke Donald made a premature exit in his bid for a hat-trick of titles and fellow heroes of the Miracle at Medinah also made an early departure from The European Tour's Flagship Event, with Rory McIlroy (75), Graeme McDowell (75), Ian Poulter (76) and Paul Lawrie (72) all joining Donald in missing the halfway cut.
Donald went into the second round insisting a hat-trick was not out of the question despite struggling to an opening 78, but the World Number Six could only manage a 72 to finish six over par.
That was 12 shots behind Molinari, who birdied the 18th from 20 feet to complete a 68 and lead by one from England's Mark Foster, Scotland's Marc Warren, Spain's Alejandro Cañizares and South African George Coetzee.
Molinari, whose halved match with Tiger Woods at Medinah sealed Europe's remarkable victory in Chicago, began his second round with a bogey and also dropped shots at the tenth and 16th, but also carded seven birdies on a course where he finished seventh last year.
The 30 year old, who was born in Turin but is now based in London, said: "I'm really happy with yesterday and today. The conditions were quite tough but I hit the ball well and the putter is working well so I am really happy at the moment.
"Six under is a good score given the conditions - I live over here now so I am used to it - and I'm in a great position going into the weekend, but it's a really tough course so anyone six or seven behind is still in it."
English rookie Eddie Pepperell birdied his last four holes to card a 69 to lie just two off the lead on four under alongside Matteo Manassero, with Lee Westwood and Ernie Els - playing alongside Molinari - another shot back after rounds of 71 and 69 respectively.
Westwood's chipping and putting has long been his Achilles heel, but the 40 year old said: "My short game's been red hot. I played some nice pitches and walking off the back of the 12th green, where I pitched to about four feet, Ernie said 'Bit of a short-game wizard now.'
"I also got up and down on 18 after hitting it in the hazard and those sorts of things can make a big difference to your week and going into the weekend with momentum. If my long game starts to come together, I could be dangerous."
Sergio Garcia was just five shots off the lead after a 71, with Nicolas Colsaerts a shot better off after a 70.
McIlroy had just one par, three birdies and five bogeys in a front nine of 37, but somehow scrambled seven pars in succession on the back nine despite a string of wayward drives before a double-bogey seven on the 17th ended his chances.
Making his 600th European Tour appearance, Spain's Miguel Angel Jiménez birdied three of his last four holes for a 69 to finish one over.