Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen claimed a slender lead in the opening round of the Italian Open after setting a target which proved too hot to handle.
Out in the first group from the 10th tee at 7.30am, Pulkkanen birdied five of his first eight holes and picked up further shots on the fifth and sixth to card a seven-under-par 64.
That gave the 29-year-old a one-shot lead over Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini, with world number five Justin Rose part of a five-strong group a shot further back on five under.
Shane Lowry has work to do if he’s to secure a top-three finish and leap to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
Lowry headed the money list after his victory in Abu Dhabi in January and moved back out in front after claiming the Open Championship title at Royal Portrush in July.
Jon Rahm’s second win of the season in Spain last Sunday took him above Lowry in the standings, but the Spaniard will not play again on the European Tour until the season-ending event in Dubai. If he managed to hoist himself inside the first three come Sunday evening, Lowry would leapfrog Rahm but a first-round one-over 72 has him eight off pace-setter Tapio Pulkkanen.
Graeme McDowell is the best of the Irish. He’s two-under after a fine 69, one shot better than Paul Dunne. Padraig Harrington is three-over following his 74.
Pulkkanen said: “My putter was really hot today. I made a lot of putts, especially on my front nine. I made a lot of long putts. It was perfect greens, so easy to make them.
I didn’t feel so comfortable with my warm-up today. It was a little dark on the range and I didn’t hit it well but it was a super score, so I’m really happy.
Sabbatini was born in South Africa but now represents Slovakia, the home country of his wife and stepson.
That means he is eligible to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup and the 43-year-old is on the radar of Europe captain Padraig Harrington.
“I think I’ve just got to continue to try and do what I did today, which is keep the ball in play,” said Sabbatini, who has won six times on the PGA Tour.
“Obviously this is a golf course that I think accuracy is of prime importance out here. Putting it in play, and then continue to hit greens and I think if you get it on the greens in regulation, minimise the stress, and we’ll see what happens.”
Rose was level par after 10 holes at Olgiata Golf Club but birdied five of the next seven to move ominously into contention for his second win of the season.
I stayed just about patient enough on the front nine,” said the Olympic champion. “I had a tough run from the second to the sixth, didn’t play very well at all and rode the storm there a little bit before resetting my goals.
“I sort of broke my round down into blocks of three holes at a time and my goal was to try to be one under for each of those individual sets of holes to try to get it in the house at three or four under.
“I just had a nice hot run in one of those blocks and birdied all three holes and got into much more of a flow. I putted unbelievably today. The greens looked like they were getting bumpy but still holding their line really well, which is great out there.”
Kurt Kitayama, Joost Luiten, Shubhankar Sharma, and Bernd Wiesberger were alongside Rose on five under, Wiesberger needing treatment on the course after injuring his right ankle on the second hole.