Masters champion Danny Willett and tournament host Rory McIlroy had the chance to separate themselves from the field as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open resumed at The K Club on Friday.
Willett beat the scoring average for the field by an incredible 8.9 shots with an opening 65, but McIlroy also took advantage of better conditions for the later starters to remain well in touch with a 67.
With more wind and rain forecast this afternoon McIlroy was well aware he needed to take advantage of an early start as he looked to end a run of three straight missed cuts in his home event, which is being hosted for the second year by the four-time major winner's foundation.
The world number three failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-five 10th, his opening hole, but made amends in style on the 13th with a stunning approach which left him with a tap-in birdie.
That closed the gap at the top of the leaderboard to a single shot after Willett bogeyed the same hole in the group behind, the world number nine having earlier succeeded where McIlroy failed to pick up a shot on the 10th.
South Africa's Jaco van Zyl, Scotland's Marc Warren and Chile's Felipe Aguilar were three shots off the pace on four under, Aguilar recovering from a bogey on the first with birdies on the second and sixth and an eagle on the par-five fourth.
Willett dropped another shot on the 15th after failing to get up and down from right of the green, but bounced back immediately with a birdie from eight feet on the par-five 16th.
And that was soon good enough for a two-shot lead as McIlroy found trouble off the tee on the 17th and, after coming up short of the green with his approach, duffed his chip onto the front of the green.
Warren and Aguilar had both birdied the par-five 18th to join McIlroy on five under par.
A drive of 327 yards on the 18th helped McIlroy set up a two-putt birdie and the four-time major winner also holed from 30 feet on the first to keep up the pressure on Willett, who had birdied the 18th to keep his nose in front.
Warren has yet to record a top-10 finish on the European Tour this season but was refusing to let the star pair pull away and picked up his fourth birdie of the day on the third to lie just two behind Willett.