Defending champion Francesco Molinari delighted home fans with an opening 64 on day one of the Italian Open – the fifth Rolex Series event of the year – to sit in a six-way tie for the lead.
Huge crowds headed to Golf Club Milano on Thursday morning to witness the start of Molinari’s title defence and were treated to an outstanding display from the 34 year old, as the four-time European Tour winner went on to card nine birdies and two bogeys to get to seven under par on a day of low scoring.
Fellow early starters Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jamie Donaldson and Alexander Björk matched Molinari’s blistering form on seven under, while England’s Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace joined them at the top of the leaderboard in the afternoon.
South Africa’s George Coetzee and Korea’s Byeong Hun An sit one shot back on six under, whilst Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who is currently second in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex, and World Number 15 Alex Noren form part of a chasing pack of eight players on five under.
Garcia’s playing partners – Race to Dubai numbers one and three – Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm posted respective opening scores of level par and four under.
Francesco Molinari: “My back nine, the front nine, was a little bit loose. The tee shots were not exactly in the middle of the fairway but I fought hard, and had some good par saves and a couple of birdies when I hit the fairways. Obviously, I’m happy with seven under, it is a very good start and there’s room for improvement.
“You know, sometimes things just click and obviously the chip-in on 18 was great. Everything was going in and it felt easy to play golf. Unfortunately those moments never last too long.
“I won it my second year as a professional, so I’ve always enjoyed the attention. I don’t know, it just seems to have a good effect on my game. I think I probably focus more, it’s a bit like playing in a major or something like that. I did well last year, so hopefully I’ll do it again.
“Another good day, starting pretty much where I left off last year, so it was great. It’s great to see the crowds. I think there’s a nice buzz around the place, and I’m happy and proud to be part of it.”
Eddie Pepperell: “It felt a little more relaxed. We had fun as well playing with Nicolas (Colsaerts) and Matthew (Pavon). We all kind of got each other going in the early part of the round.
“I carried on the form I have been in and probably putted a little bit better today actually than I have done in the last few events. It was a very solid round of golf.”
Jamie Donaldson: “I played really good. You know, didn’t do much wrong really today. When I had a chance of holing a putt, I made it. I generally putted a lot better, and tee-to-green was pretty good.
“It’s a really good golf course. We used to play courses like this every week on the European Tour. It’s nice to come back and play sort of old school golf. It’s tight and tree-lined, and there was no wind today, so it was ideal scoring conditions.”
Sergio Garcia: “I’m happy with it. Obviously, there was some chances there that maybe I could have taken care of but you can’t really make them all, or at least some days you can’t.
“At the end of the day I played nicely. I putted quite well, made some good putts here and there. It was a good solid round and excited to hopefully do more of the same over the weekend.
“Standing ovation for the Italian people to come and support us. We play no matter if it’s big crowds or maybe not so big. Obviously, when you see the amount of people that come and watch you play it makes it extra special for sure.”
Round one scores
64 E Pepperell (Eng) , A Björk (Swe) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , F Molinari (Ita) , M Wallace (Eng) , J Donaldson (Wal) ,
65 A Byeong Hun (Kor) , G Coetzee (RSA) ,
66 G Havret (Fra) , M Warren (Sco) , A Cañizares (Esp) , A Noren (Swe) , C Paisley (Eng) , S Garcia (Esp) , M Pavon (Fra) , A Pavan (Ita) ,
67 M Fraser (Aus) , J Rahm (Esp) , D Drysdale (Sco) , D Howell (Eng) , F Fritsch (Ger) , D Brooks (Eng) , J Campillo (Esp) , R Gouveia (Por) , P Dunne (Irl) , S Brazel (Aus) , R Ramsay (Sco) , B Stone (RSA) , D Fichardt (RSA) , S Mazzoli (am) (Ita) ,
68 N Bertasio (Ita) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , R Fisher (Eng) , M Kaymer (Ger) , M Kieffer (Ger) , A Levy (Fra) , J Luiten (Ned) , E Molinari (Ita) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , A Connelly (Can) , F Aguilar (Chi) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , G Bourdy (Fra) , W Jeunghun (Kor) , R Paratore (Ita) , C Hanson (Eng) , J Quesne (Fra) , L Slattery (Eng) ,
69 J Lagergren (Swe) , A Sullivan (Eng) , R Rock (Eng) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , S Lowry (Irl) , P Waring (Eng) , T Olesen (Den) , L Westwood (Eng) , G McDowell (Nir) , D Im (USA) , E Di Nitto (Ita) , W Ormsby (Aus) , L Donald (Eng) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , T Hatton (Eng) , D Frittelli (RSA) , N Fasth (Swe) , L Scalise (am) (Ita) ,
70 C Pigem (Esp) , P Pittayarat (Tha) , M Jiménez (Esp) , J Carlsson (Swe) , A Romero (Arg) , R Fox (Nzl) , A Otaegui (Esp) , N Holman (Aus) , J Van Zyl (RSA) , A Hansen (Den) , H Porteous (RSA) , M Siem (Ger) , T Aiken (RSA) , B Hebert (Fra) , D Horsey (Eng) , J Scrivener (Aus) , N Elvira (Esp) , J Walters (RSA) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , D Burmester (RSA) , A Johnston (Eng) , R Karlsson (Swe) , J Smith (Eng) , L Bjerregaard (Den) , R Sterne (RSA) , M Southgate (Eng) ,
71 L Soomin (Kor) , O Fisher (Eng) , B Dredge (Wal) , B Rumford (Aus) , F Maccario (Ita) , J Morrison (Eng) , J Suri (USA) , L Cianchetti (Ita) , T Detry (Bel) , R Wattel (Fra) , M Carlsson (Swe) , M Korhonen (Fin) , E De La Riva (Esp) , M Manassero (Ita) , A Dodt (Aus) , T Fleetwood (Eng) ,
72 R Bland (Eng) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , S Gallacher (Sco) , H Tanihara (Jpn) , T Jaidee (Tha) , L Jensen (Den) , W Ashun (Chn) , A Quiros (Esp) , M Ilonen (Fin) ,
73 A Tadini (Ita) , D Willett (Eng) , T Bjørn (Den) , P Harrington (Irl) , P Hanson (Swe) , G Stal (Fra) ,
74 J Olazábal (Esp) , F Zanotti (Par) , P Peterson (USA) ,
75 D Lingmerth (Swe) , S Jamieson (Sco) , G Storm (Eng) ,
76 S Gros (Fra) ,
77 N Ravano (Ita) ,