November 1, 2019 / 9:00 AM / 11 days ago

UPDATE 1-Golf-Fitzpatrick leads McIlroy by one at halfway in Shanghai

* Fitzpatrick wields hot putter

* McIlroy eagles final hole

* Ailing Schauffele two back (Adds quotes, details)

Nov 1 (Reuters) - Matthew Fitzpatrick earned a one-stroke halfway lead over Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai on Friday while home hope and overnight leader Li Haotong slipped three shots off the pace.

Fitzpatrick, the world No. 27, showed a magic touch with the putter, capping his day with a 15-foot birdie at the last for a five-under-par 67 in the second round at Sheshan International.

The Englishman leads the way with an 11-under 133 total at the only World Golf Championships event held outside North America.

In hot pursuit, McIlroy reeled off four straight early birdies before his putter cooled off, though he had no trouble brushing in a three-foot eagle putt at the par-five 18th after a magnificent approach shot.

The Northern Irishman matched Fitzpatrick’s 67, while American defending champion Xander Schauffele (69), Australian Adam Scott (69) and South Korean Im Sung-jae (69) were two behind the leader.

Li, after an opening 64 on Thursday, managed only two birdies in a 72 that left him equal sixth.

Fitzpatrick was delighted with his putting though said his driving was wayward at times.

“Back nine I struggled with driver a little bit,” he said. “Hit a few pulls but I putted fantastic, as good as I’ve putted all year.”

Fitzpatrick and McIlroy agreed that accuracy off the tee would be paramount over the final two rounds.

“It’s a big key to hit fairway around here and if you keep doing it you’ll give yourself some good (birdie) chances,” said Fitzpatrick, 25, who has won five times on the European Tour.

McIlroy had an eventful finish.

At the short par-four 16th he pulled his drive into a bush and had an unplayable lie. With nowhere to safely drop, he decided to return to the tee for his third shot, and in the end was relieved to escape with a bogey.

“After the way I started, four under through six (holes), I was thinking maybe shoot a better score than (the 67 yesterday) but you miss a couple of fairways and a couple of greens and this course all of a sudden gets pretty tricky,” said the world number two.

“It’s easy from the fairways but I veered off them a bit in the middle of the round but was able to get back on track and it was obviously nice to finish the way I did, especially after the mess I nearly made at 16.”

Schauffele was happy to be only two behind considering he has been under the weather this week.

“Energy is kind of weird right now,” he said.

“I always have a good attitude and attitude is key right now. If I can laugh at my horrendous shots and smile when I hit them good I think we’ll be good to go.”

Reporting by Andrew Both in Tokyo; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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