Renato Paratore was “delighted to be back playing again” after claiming the halfway lead at the 2020 Betfred British Masters hosted by Lee Westwood.
The 23-year-old Italian added a 66 to his opening 65 to sit 11 under par at Close House, having reached the halfway stage without dropping a shot.
Paratore, whose only previous European Tour title came in Sweden three years ago, made gains at the first and 14th, as well as picking up birdies at all three par fives on the course – his pitch for eagle on the 17th stopping inches short of the cup.
“It felt really good today,” said Paratore. “I played really solid, especially the short game. I saved some shots when I needed it, so I’m very happy my game.
“It’s obviously a different atmosphere without the crowd but I’m just delighted to be back out playing again.
“I like to play every week so for me it’s great being back.
“During the restrictions you just have to accept it. I tried to stay in good shape physically. I did not practise much technically but I just worked every day on the physical aspect.
“I practised a lot when we were able to play after lockdown and Austria (the Austrian Open) was a good week to come back.”
Harding came storming out of the blocks with four birdies in his first five holes and and added further gains at the seventh, ninth, 16th and 17th in a best of the week 63.
Whitnell also kept a clean card, featuring five birdies and an eagle on the 17th in his 64.
Tournament host Westwood made the cut on one under following a 71, as did evergreen Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez, who is three under at the halfway stage of his record equalling 706th European Tour appearance.