A round of 66 catapulted Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell up to a share of third place at the Italian Open at the halfway stage, but Open champion Shane Lowry missed the cut after carding a 71 in Rome.
The highlight of McDowell’s day came on the 17th hole, where an eagle boosted his chance of emulating his win in this event 15 years ago as he finished his round on seven under par.
Lowry added a 71 to his opening 72, while home favourite Francesco Molinari was another big-name casualty at Olgiata Golf Club.
A self-diagnosed in-round adjustment paid major dividends for Matt Fitzpatrick as he claimed the halfway lead.
Fitzpatrick added a second round of 65 to his opening 67 to finish 10 under, a shot ahead of Denmark's Joachim B Hansen, with Justin Rose, Andrew Johnston, Rory Sabbatini and Shubhankar Sharma all joining McDowell on seven under.
Fitzpatrick has won at least once a season on the European Tour since claiming his maiden title in 2015, but has had to settle for three runners-up finishes so far in 2019.
"When you're in these kind of positions it's always exciting," said the 25-year-old from England, who finished second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, BMW International Open and Scandinavian Invitation.
"That's why you play the game and I look forward to the weekend," he added.
"I figured out something with my irons after the second hole. Just needed to get a little bit more loft on it going back, something I've been working on since Wentworth, really.
"I felt much more comfortable with my irons once I was out there and that certainly showed. I only missed one green after that."
Rose had looked set be much closer to the lead as he reached nine under par with two holes to play, only to run up a double-bogey six on the eighth and fail to birdie the par-five ninth.
"Overall, a 69 keeps me moving forward," the world number five said.
"This golf course is no given by any means. There are birdie opportunities out there, but whenever I made a mistake I feel like it was a big mistake.
"On 11, my second hole today, I holed a 10-foot putt for bogey, on the third I had to get up and down for bogey and eventually I made the double on eight.
"I was kind of threatening to make double all day. I think that's the only thing. When I make a mistake, it's just too big a mistake at the moment."
Sabbatini was born in South Africa but now represents Slovakia, the home
country of his wife and stepson, making him eligible to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup.
Captain Padraig Harrington is monitoring Sabbatini's form but, speaking after a round of 70, the 43-year-old joked: "I think the only reason Padraig is looking at me is because I'm the only one that's close to his age.
"Obviously there's potential and I have a chance, but I'd say between now and then I've got a lot of good golf that needs to be played.
"My game is finally turning around. I'm back to full strength and full health. I'm starting to get comfortable out on the golf course again, so I'm giving myself opportunities and putting myself in the mix more and more frequently.
"Obviously that breeds confidence and confidence is key in golf."