County Cork, Republic of Ireland (SportsNetwork.com) - Mikko Ilonen shot a 3- under 68 Friday, which was good enough to keep him in the lead by two strokes after the second round of the Irish Open.
Ilonen, of Finland, entered the second round with a 2-shot lead, and after another strong performance he currently sits at 10-under 132 after 36 holes on the Deerpark Course at Fota Island Resort.
Ilonen is looking for his fourth win on the European Tour and first since winning at the Nordea Masters last year.
Ilonen's lead was threatened by France's Romain Wattel (65), but Ilonen birdied the 18th hole, while Wattel made bogey on the same hole to drop into a three-way tie for second place at 8-under 134 with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Robert Rock. Both McDowell and Rock shot 66 in the second round.
Matthew Nixon and Gareth Maybin tied Wattel for the low round of the day at 65. Nixon sits three back of the lead along with Simon Khan (66) and Marco Crespi (67), while Maybin is tied for eighth at 6-under.
Ireland's own Padraig Harrington fired a second-round 67 and is also tied with Maybin, Sihwan Kim (67) and Edoardo Molinari (69) at 6-under 136.
While Ilonen may not have had low numbers from his first round, he held strong and did not make too many mistakes on Friday.
Starting on No. 1, Ilonen picked up right where he left off by pouring in a birdie on the par-4. Ilonen put things on cruise control for the rest of the front nine, making the turn with eight straight pars from No. 2.
A birdie at 10 put Ilonen at 9-under for the tournament, but he gave that shot back on No. 12 with a bogey. Two more pars at 13 and 14 were followed by back- to-back birdies at 15 and 16. Ilonen then stumbled to a bogey on 17 before closing his round out with yet another birdie to put him up two shots.
"I was expecting to get to double-digits today and I just did that," Ilonen said. "It wasn't quite as easy as yesterday. I didn't hit the ball that well and I didn't putt as well as I did yesterday. It was good enough. So I got to my goal, which was the most important thing."
Wattel began the day five shots back of Ilonen at 2-under, but he got things going rather quickly in the second round with a birdie on No. 2. After a par on three, Wattel made three straight birdies from No. 4 to put him at 6-under par.
Three more pars brought Wattel into the turn before he made yet another birdie at 10. He would close his round out with birdies at 15 and 16, a par at 17 and his lone bogey of the round on 18.
McDowell, who started he day four shots back at 3-under, started his day off slowly with two birdies and a bogey on the back nine, which was McDowell's front nine.
When McDowell made the turn, he started to pick up some much-needed birdies. He converted three straight birdies from No. 2 and another one at six. He would close his round out with three more pars to put him at 8-under for the week.
"I've been unhappy with my game now for a few months, really getting frustrated with myself in general and trying to be a little too perfect," McDowell said. "I tried to loosen myself up a little bit and try to enjoy my golf a little bit. I'm surprised and excited to be in contention."
Rock, a two-time runner-up at the Irish Open (2009 and 2013), had to separate instances where he birdied three straight holes. The first barrage started at No. 2, while the second one didn't come until No. 14. He also added a birdie at 11 to go along with bogeys at seven and 12.
NOTES: Rock lost in a playoff to Shane Lowry at the 2009 Irish Open. He also settled for a tie for second last year as Paul Casey took home the title ... With the cut line at even-par 124, Rory McIlroy missed the cut with a 1-over 143 for the tournament.