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Molinari flourishes while Donald and McIlroy falter

Francesco Molinari of Italy hits from a sand trap in the seventh hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Aug
Francesco Molinari of Italy hits from a sand trap in the seventh hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Aug

By Tony Jimenez

VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Francesco Molinari flourished while five of his European Ryder Cup team mates fell flat on their faces as the Italian grabbed the lead after the PGA Championship second round on Friday.

Luke Donald, the 2011 and 2012 winner, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Paul Lawrie all missed the halfway cut after struggling in cold, dank conditions at the European Tour's flagship event.

A miserable Wentworth course almost turned into 'Wetworth' as driving rain, eight-degree temperatures and 15-mph winds brought out the multi-colored umbrellas, waterproofs, mittens and beanies for the second day in a row.

The bad weather played right into Molinari's hands though as he fired a four-under 68 for a six-under tally of 138.

British pair Marc Warren (70) and Mark Foster (69), Spain's Alejandro Canizares (70) and South African George Coetzee (70) were all one stroke off the pace.

"This weather is the same for everyone but I think in some ways, for me, it's almost better because it makes it even tougher," Molinari told reporters.

"If I'm playing well I hit quite a lot of fairways and greens so I can take advantage of it," said the Italian who is renowned for the excellence of his long game.

"I'm hitting the ball well off the tee and with the irons, I'm getting a few chances and the putter is working well so I'm really happy where I am at the moment."

Molinari may have been smiling but Donald, McIlroy, Poulter, McDowell and Lawrie certainly were not.

Donald, bidding for a hat-trick of PGA titles, could not retrieve the situation after a woeful first-round 78 had left him with a mountain to climb to make the cut.

"Even for England this is pretty unseasonal and it made the course play tougher," said the Briton after returning a 72 on Friday. "The last couple of years it's been pretty warm for this event and the ball travelled a lot.

"This year I've been hitting longer irons into some of these holes because of the weather. The bottom line, though, is I didn't play very well - I was nine-over for the first 21 holes and that is pretty terrible golf really."

GRIND FOR MCILROY

World number two McIlroy missed the cut here for the second season running after compiling a 75 for 149, five over.

"I'm looking forward to playing some golf where I'm not in four layers of clothing," said the Northern Irishman. "But that's not really an excuse - I just didn't play well.

"For 12 or 13 holes yesterday I played really well and it's just when the weather started to turn a little bit, I didn't hang in there. It was a grind and I made too many mistakes and hit too many bad shots."

Wentworth is also not the happiest hunting ground for Poulter who has now missed the championship cut eight times.

One reporter had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he asked Europe's Ryder Cup hero, 'Are you getting to like playing here?'.

"You come out with all the wonderful questions don't you? ... when I've just had an absolute nightmare," was Poulter's pithy reply after he slumped to a 76 for 152.

"You're asking me whether I'm getting to like this place and I've just been out in the freezing cold and rain. It obviously doesn't suit my eye, does it?.

"Horses for courses and I guess this isn't my course."

The iconic West Course on the outskirts of London is also not one of McDowell's favorites after he missed the cut for the third successive year with a 75 for 149.

"That's probably one of the more brutal rounds of golf conditions-wise I've played in a few years," said last week's World Match Play Championship winner in Bulgaria.

British Open winner Ernie Els (69) and playing partner Lee Westwood (71) were lurking menacingly on 141 while Spain's Sergio Garcia, involved in a racism row with Tiger Woods earlier this week, was on 143 following a 71.

Westwood's touch on and around the greens has always been his Achilles heel but he described his short game as "red hot".

"Even Ernie said as we walked off the 12th green, 'Bit of a short game wizard now'," smiled Westwood.

"I pitch it close from 100 yards more regularly now and it can take pressure off a lot of things ... your putting, your long game. If my long game comes together I could be dangerous."

Britain's Andy Sullivan recorded the second hole-in-one at the short second this week but he also missed the cut.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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