McIlroy carded a superb 66 in testing conditions at Le Golf National to claim a share of the halfway lead in the French Open as Yorkshireman Willett’s last competitive appearance before Troon ended in a second consecutive missed cut.
Six birdies in the first 14 holes had taken McIlroy into the outright lead in his first event since missing the cut in the US Open, only for the 27-year-old to drive into the water on the 18th for the second day running.
The resulting bogey left the world No 4 in a five-way tie for the lead on five under par alongside Mikko Ilonen, Brandon Stone, Thongchai Jaidee and Wang Jeunghun, who won back-to-back titles in Morocco and Mauritius earlier this year.
“It’s a really good day’s work,” said McIlroy, who revealed after his opening 71 that he had whittled 17 swing thoughts “down to about five” as he worked on eradicating some bad habits from his game.
“I can’t let a bit of a disappointing finish taint a really good day. I felt for the most part I controlled my ball well and holed some good putts.”
In contrast, Willett had earlier only been able to add a second round of 72 to his opening 75 to finish five over par and continue a disappointing run of form.
The world No 9 finished third in the BMW PGA Championship at the end of May, but smashed the putter he used at Augusta in frustration during the US Open and missed the cut in the BMW International Open in Germany last week.
“The last three weeks we’ve putted as bad as we ever have and things haven’t quite gone our way,” the 28-year-old from Sheffield said. “When you keep shooting the worst score you can it’s a tricky game.”
The last time Willett missed two cuts in a row was in the US Open and French Open last year, but he then bounced back to finish sixth in the Open.
Woodsome Hall’s Chris Hanson is tied 33rd (68 75) with Harrogate’s John Parry (72 72) one shot behind.
Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick (74 72) and malton’s Simon Dyson (78 74) also missed the cut.