McIlroy is looking forward to a weekend battle with his Ryder Cup team-mate, saying: “I’m excited. Tommy played great last week. I obviously had my chances as well. This is the great thing about golf, you can get straight back on the horse. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Fleetwood and McIlroy hold a three-shot lead over a quartet of players – England’s Ian Poulter, Americans Jim Furyk and Brian Harman and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer.
Furyk had the best round of the day, the 48-year-old former Ryder Cup captain carding eight birdies in a flawless 64.
Tiger Woods admitted he was “ticked off” after seeing his hopes of winning a third Players Championship title suffer a potentially fatal blow on the famous 17th hole.
Woods began the second round five shots off the lead but had moved ominously up the leaderboard with birdies on the 12th, 13th and 16th, having started from the 10th tee.
However, the former world number one then dumped two balls into the water on the par-three 17th on his way to a damaging quadruple-bogey seven.