Robert Rock, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne made the most of the scoreable conditions at Gardagolf Country Club to share the lead after the first round of the Italian Open.
Canter and Rock capitalised with rounds of 63 to set the target at eight under and after an hour and 19 minutes was lost in the afternoon due to storms in the area, it looked like none of the afternoon starters could catch them.
Enter six-time European Tour winner Sterne, who carded a total of ten birdies – including three on the bounce at the end of his round – to make it a three-way tie at the top.
There was then a group of nine players with 22 European Tour wins between then at six under, made up of Englishmen Ross Fisher, Charlie Ford, Matt Wallace and Danny Willett, Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, American Daniel Im, Dane Thorbjørn Olesen, Belgian Thomas Pieters and South African Erik van Rooyen.
Canter is looking for his first European Tour title after coming through the Qualifying School the last three seasons, while Rock is seeking win number three at the event where he claimed his maiden victory seven years ago.
Home favourite Francesco Molinari – a two-time winner of this event – is three shots off the pace at five under in the chasing pack as he searches for back-to-back Rolex Series titles.
Robert Rock: “I had a provisional ball off the second tee, both were in trouble and casual water saved me with the first one, turned into a bogey, and then nine holes I think in possibly 26 shots, which I’ve not done before.
“So any time you do something like that, you feel a bit lucky, and managed to progress on after that and make a couple more birdies and we end up at eight under.
“The course is soft and fairways are playing a bit wider because it’s just landing and stopping, and on the greens you have to hole some putts. I holed some sort of the usual, solid birdie putts and holed a couple of bonus ones as well, so that was pretty cool.
“It’s nice to come to a tournament that’s got a lot of history to it and nice to see your name on the board somewhere. It means a lot. Ten years to win my first event, so hopefully I get to play this for a few more years, anyway, but I’ll always remember this one best I think.”
Richard Sterne: “It was lovely. The course is playing nice, giving a lot of opportunities, so you’ve got to take them. I saw a lot of guys shoot quite low this morning. The greens were a bit bumpy this afternoon but it was probably one of the best putting days I’ve had in many a year, so it was nice.
“It makes the course a bit more accessible. The greens could be pretty quick here if it was firm, but as I said they are pretty soft, so you can get close, and the par fives are reachable. So it takes the long hitters out of play and everybody can attack this week.
“Last week was unfortunate. This week, I’ve just putted a lot better. It’s a strange game, you make a couple of putts here and there, and you have a good day like today and last week hopefully is all forgotten.
“I haven’t done well in any of the Rolex Series to be honest. It would be nice to put in a couple solid rounds. It’s a long way to go, only day one. Hopefully put some solid rounds together.”
Laurie Canter: “I just got the shots really close, and then a nice shot from the left semi into the par five seventh, a straight forward eagle putt, and kind of just happened. Nothing was forced. It was there, and I hit some nice shots and it kind of just all happened.
“I’ve had times in the past where I’ve got two under, three under, four under par and as good as that is out here, that doesn’t often make that much of a dent. I think you’ve got to just try and stay out of your own way as much as possible, and you know, keep focusing on that next shot, the old clichés, everyone falls back on them and that’s all I try to do.
“I just got a call Sunday night, a Member of the European Tour staff was up late on a bank holiday Sunday and he gave me a ring and said, “You’re into the event.” That was a nice bonus. I was just putting some meat on the barbeque. I was over the moon.
“It is a great opportunity for the guys in the Q-School category to get into those Rolex Series Events. You try and play your best every event, but obviously it’s nice if you do get into an event like this and you put yourself in a position to play well and have a good finish come Sunday.”
Round One Scores
63 L Canter (Eng); R Sterne (RSA); R Rock (Eng);
65 M Wallace (Eng); D Willett (Eng); C Ford (Eng); E Van Rooyen (RSA); T Pieters (Bel); R Fisher (Eng); R Cabrera Bello (Esp); T Olesen (Den);
66 W Ormsby (Aus); M Manassero (Ita); D Im (USA); J Donaldson (Wal); C Shinkwin (Eng); L Westwood (Eng); M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra); G McDowell (Nir); D Fichardt (RSA); M Fitzpatrick (Eng); F Molinari (Ita); L Slattery (Eng);
67 C Wood (Eng); R Evans (Eng); R Ramsay (Sco); D Frittelli (RSA); D Brooks (Eng); J Smith (Eng); J Kruyswijk (RSA); A Sullivan (Eng); I Poulter (Eng); H Tanihara (Jpn); E Pepperell (Eng); A Romero (Arg); M Schwab (Aut); A Rai (Eng); J Morrison (Eng); A Chesters (Eng); J Scrivener (Aus);
68 T Fleetwood (Eng); J Campillo (Esp); G Havret (Fra); J Lagergren (Swe); H Li (Chn); M Jiménez (Esp); C Syme (Sco); O Fisher (Eng); L Gagli (Ita); L Bjerregaard (Den); M Kaymer (Ger); A Levy (Fra); A Otaegui (Esp); J Dantorp (Swe); A Saddier (Fra); P Hanson (Swe); J Geary (Nzl); S Hend (Aus); M Warren (Sco); D Lipsky (USA); D Drysdale (Sco); B Dredge (Wal); P Waring (Eng); J Wang (Kor); M Korhonen (Fin); R Jacquelin (Fra);
69 A Johnston (Eng); C Sordet (Fra); N Bertasio (Ita); A Connelly (Can); D Howell (Eng); S Jamieson (Sco); S Gallacher (Sco); S Horsfield (Eng); T Detry (Bel); N Elvira (Esp); J Winther (Den); L Cianchetti (Ita); F Zanotti (Par); P Khongwatmai (Tha); B Stone (RSA); P Larrazábal (Esp); J Norris (Aus); R Fox (Nzl); T Aiken (RSA); A Pavan (Ita); T Immelman (RSA); P Dunne (Irl); P Widegren (Swe); M Kinhult (Swe);
70 S Brazel (Aus); R Karlsson (Swe); G Fernandez – Castaño (Esp); F Aguilar (Chi); A Wu (Chn); G Bourdy (Fra); P Oriol (Esp); S Lee (Kor); D Burmester (RSA); A Noren (Swe); G Coetzee (RSA); R McGowan (Eng); J Guerrier (Fra); L Jensen (Den); S Kjeldsen (Den); A Bland (Aus); B Rumford (Aus); R Bland (Eng); H Porteous (RSA); B Hebert (Fra); M Ilonen (Fin);
71 M Southgate (Eng); R Wattel (Fra); M Kieffer (Ger); F Bergamaschi (Ita); S Gros (Fra); S Heisele (Ger); J Choi (Kor); S Fernandez (Esp); M Foster (Eng); F Laporta (Ita); R Cho (Kor); C Hanson (Eng); G Green (Mas); A Quiros (Esp); T Jaidee (Tha); S Brown (Eng); P Harrington (Irl); A Björk (Swe); C Paisley (Eng);
72 C Koepka (USA); M Siem (Ger); A Dodt (Aus); D Horsey (Eng); R Gouveia (Por); G Migliozzi (Ita); T Hatton (Eng); C Pigem (Esp); J Heath (Eng); M Pavon (Fra);
73 P Angles (Esp); R Paratore (Ita); B Neil (Sco); S Chawrasia (Ind); C Bezuidenhout (RSA);
74 N Colsaerts (Bel); J Vecchi Fossa (Ita); N Geyger (Chi); E Di Nitto (Ita); T Pulkkanen (Fin); M Fraser (Aus);
75 F Maccario (Ita); M Baldwin (Eng);
76 E Molinari (Ita);
77 O Farr (Wal);
78 Z Lombard (RSA);