July 23 (Reuters) - Italy’s Renato Paratore produced a fine round of five-under-par 66 to lead at the halfway stage of the British Masters at Close House on Thursday as host Lee Westwood battled to make the cut.
The 1.25 million euros ($1.45 million) event in Northumberland is the first of six tournaments to be staged in England and Wales without spectators amid strict protocols to combat the threat of the novel coronavirus.
Paratore carded birdies on the first and 14th holes as well as each of the three par-fives, with his eagle attempt on the 17th stopping inches short of the cup.
The 23-year-old completed a bogey-free opening 36 holes to sit at 11-under overall, one shot clear of England’s Dale Whitnell and South African Justin Harding.
“I played really solid, especially the short game,” said Paratore, whose only previous European Tour title came at the Nordea Masters in Sweden three years ago.
“I saved some shots when I needed it, so I’m very happy with my game,” he added. “I like to play every week so for me it’s great being back.”
Whitnell sank an eagle putt on his penultimate hole to sign for a 64 and get to 10 under while Harding moved alongside him late in the afternoon after posting the week’s best score of 63.
Former world number one Westwood made the cut on one under following a 71, as did Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez who was three under for the tournament on his record-equalling 706th European Tour appearance. ($1 = 0.8610 euros) (Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.