Matt Fitzpatrick found himself one shot clear of a large chasing pack when the weather-affected first round of the 2022 DS Automobiles Italian Open was suspended due to fading light on Thursday evening.
The US Open Champion fired five birdies and no bogeys in his first 15 holes before he and the other late starters ran out of daylight after all tee times had been pushed back by one hour in the morning due to lightning.
The Englishman reached the turn in 33 after picking up two shots on the front nine before reeling off three birdies in a row from the 11th to reach the top of the leaderboard on five under.
He then made good par saves on the next two holes to remain one stroke in front before play was suspended shortly after 7pm local time.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was in an eight-way tie for second spot on four under alongside Gavin Green, Scott Jamieson, Adri Arnaus, Eddie Pepperell and Antoine Rozner in the clubhouse, and Alvaro Quiros and Joost Luiten, who had two and five holes to complete respectively.
Defending champion Nicolai Højgaard was among those another shot further back on three under after his opening 68.
The first round will resume at 7.30 a.m. on Friday.
Fitzpatrick opened his birdie account from around 15 feet at the second before picking up another shot at the short seventh, having sent his tee-shot to five feet.
He birdied the 11th from five feet before notching another from close range at the next hole after his eagle attempt had narrowly missed.
And when Fitzpatrick drained his 18-foot effort at the 13th for a hat-trick of birdies, he took the outright lead.
The 28-year-old missed the green with his second shot at the 14th but managed to save par there before recovering from an errant tee-shot at the 15th to make another par before the overnight suspension.
He said: “I played well in patches. I’ve been lucky off the tee probably three times today.
“Just had a lie and got myself back in position and made a par, which I feel like looking at the scoring over the day, pars have been good scores.”
“So yeah, to be honest I’m taking my chances when I’ve had them, which is great. But just need to sharpen the driver.”
McIlroy recovered from a slow start in style on Thursday morning, following up two bogeys and a birdie in his first nine holes with an eagle and three birdies in the next nine.
A hole-out eagle from 115 yards on the third hole – his 12th – sparked McIlroy’s revival before birdies at the fifth, eighth and ninth helped him sign for an opening 67.