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 in Rome on Thursday.
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.
“My putter was really hot today,” Pulkkanen admitted. “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 Pádraig 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,” the Olympic champion said. “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.
Home favourite Francesco Molinari is seven shots off the pace after struggling to a level-par 71, with his successor as British Open champion, Ireland's Shane Lowry, another stroke adrift on one over.
Lowry got to two under after six holes thanks to birdies at the 12th, 13th and 15th but a bogey on the 18th, his ninth, and further dropped shots on the sixth and eighth holes saw him go back over par.
Graeme McDowell leads the Irish challenge after carding a two-over 69 that included four birdies, while Paul Dunne rescued his round with three birdies in five holes on the back nine as he signed for a one-under 70.
Harrington carded a three-over 74, with two double-bogeys on the 15th and 18th holes.
British and Irish unless stated , par 71, (a) denotes amateurs
64 Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin)
65 Rory Sabbatini (Svk)
66 Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Justin Rose, Joost Luiten (Ned), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
67 Joachim B. Hansen (Den), Andrew Johnston, Matthew Fitzpatrick
68 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Daniel Willett, Ross Fisher, Chris Paisley, Matthias Schwab (Aut), Sam Horsfield, Tyrrell Hatton, Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa)
69 Matt Wallace, Graeme McDowell, David Horsey, Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Francesco Laporta (Ita), George Coetzee (Rsa), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Aaron Rai, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Robert Macintyre, Jordan Smith, Lee Westwood, Alexander Levy (Fra)
70 Ashun Wu (Chn), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Grant Forrest, Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa), Julian Suri (USA), Dean Burmester (Rsa), Paul Dunne, Eddie Pepperell, Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Adri Arnaus (Esp), Kalle Samooja (Fin), Paul Waring, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Romain Langasque (Fra), Matthew Southgate, Stephen Gallacher, Luke Donald, Justin Walters (Rsa)
71 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Jack Singh Brar, Renato Paratore (Ita), Oliver Fisher, Jason Scrivener (Aus), Jeff Winther (Den), Wade Ormsby (Aus), Gavin Green (Mal), Thomas Detry (Bel), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Richie Ramsay, Ashley Chesters, Lee Slattery, Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters (Bel)
72 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Justin Harding (Rsa), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Shane Lowry, David Lipsky (USA), Nacho Elvira (Esp), Bradley Dredge, Lorenzo Scalise (a) (Ita), Alex Noren (Swe), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Guido Migliozzi (Esp), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), James Morrison, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Andres Romero (Arg), Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Jamie Donaldson, Ian Poulter, Richard Sterne (Rsa), Nino Bertasio (Ita)
73 Ricardo Gouveia (Por), Richard McEvoy, Enrico Di Nitto (Ita), Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Haotong Li (Chn), Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Pedro Figueiredo (Por), Lorenzo Gagli (Ita), Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn)
74 Steven Brown, Thomas Aiken (Rsa), S.S.P Chawrasia (Ind), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Sebastian Soderberg (Swe), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), Victor Perez (Fra), Pádraig Harrington
75 Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa), Stuart Manley, Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Robert Karlsson (Swe), David Drysdale, Robert Rock, Andrew Sullivan
76 Chris Wood, Liam Johnston, Michael Campbell (Nzl), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Jens Dantorp (Swe), Scott Jamieson
77 David Law, Romain Wattel (Fra), Filippo Bergamaschi (Ita), Sam Brazel (Aus)
79 David Howell
80 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Esp)
82 Scott Hend (Aus)
83 Kim Koivu (Fin)
85 Edoardo Raffaele Lipparelli (a) (Ita)