By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Francesco Molinari recovered from a shaky start to maintain his lead at the BMW PGA Championship on Friday while title holder Rory McIlroy missed the cut for only the third time in 45 events.
Birdies were in short supply for world number one McIlroy as he plunged to a 78 that meant he missed the cut on five-over 149.
Italian Molinari began the second round with a two-stroke cushion over the rest of the field but his chipping was not up to scratch early on and it led to bogeys at the first and third.
However, five birdies over the remaining error-free 15 holes gave him a three-under-par 69 and a 10-under aggregate of 134 on another warm and sunny day at Wentworth.
South Korean An Byeong Hun soared into contention after an eight-birdie 64 pushed him into second place, one behind Molinari. In joint third spot on 136 were Argentine Emiliano Grillo (65) and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee (66).
Paul McGinley, Europe's triumphant 2014 Ryder Cup captain, tipped Molinari to do well at the start of the week and the triple European Tour winner did his best to live up to the Irishman's expectations.
"I enjoy playing here," the tournament leader told reporters at the tour's flagship event. "There's a bit of good Italian karma with Costantino Rocca winning in 1996 and Matteo Manassero in 2013.
"The start is really tricky here. My chipping wasn't good enough to save par at the first and third but I managed to steady the ship and made a few birdies coming in."
The four-times major champion McIlroy is in the middle of an untypically busy schedule of five tournaments in a row that will end with the Irish Open event he hosts at Royal County Down next week.
"I'm a little disappointed I'm not going to be here for the weekend," said McIlroy who has already won twice this month in the United States. "I'd still rather be here but it's not all bad getting to go home for the weekend.
"If there was any weekend to miss, coming off the back of three good weeks in the United States, I'm probably in need of a little bit of a rest."
(Editing by Toby Davis)