Ian Poulter smashed the 34 year old course record at Olgiata Golf Club in Rome when he fired an 11 under par 61 in the opening round of the 59th Italian Open Telecom Italia.
Poulter, who won his maiden title in this event two years ago at Is Molas on his way to becoming the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, looked to be on the threshold of making European Tour history as the first player to shoot 59.
Six birdies on the front nine gave him an outward half of 30 and when he birdied the tenth and 11th holes, the magic number was on the cards. Three pars followed but with two par fives in the last four holes the 26 year old Englishman was still in with a chance. An outstanding six iron to 12 feet on the 492 yard 15th hole set up an eagle and that was followed by a birdie on the 16th after his four iron tee shot nestled six feet from the hole to take him to 11 under par.
Two birdies were needed in the last two holes but on the 17th tee he pushed his tee shot into the trees on the right. He had no chance of reaching the green in two, the only option being to chip the ball out and although his third shot finished 18 feet right on the hole, the birdie chance slipped by. A par up the last concluded an outstanding round of 61, five shots better than the record set by Canadian Al Balding in the 1968 World Cup.
“A 59 was definitely on,” said Poulter. “It is the lowest score I have ever had but there were a few opportunities out there. I am so happy having walked off shooting 61 but it would have been nice to have nicked another couple.
“I don’t normally get nervous but I was more nervous on the 17th than when I won twice. It would have been so nice to have shot 59.
“I want to win more this year than two years ago. I haven’t had a win this season and I want to win. I feel I have to win every year.”
Remarkably Poulter only decided which one of four putters to take out on the course ten minutes before his tee time, eventually opting for one borrowed from his close friend Justin Rose the previous day in a bid to cure the putting problems that have plagued him for the past six weeks.
“I was fed up with the way I was putting the last six weeks,” added the 2000 champion. “I have played so well and haven’t played any better today than over the last six weeks. But as soon as you hole the putts it makes a massive difference. I was overcomplicating things and thought just go out there, relax, change the putter and get comfortable. Justin is not going to get the putter back this week.”
Poulter leads by three strokes from England’s Miles Tunnicliff and Anders Hansen, the Volvo PGA Champion continuing the Danish resurgence on The European Tour when he posted an eight under par 64 in the opening round.
Last Sunday Steen Tinning became the fourth Danish winner on The 2002 European Tour International Open when he won in Madrid and four days later handed the baton to Hansen, who rolled in ten birdies with two dropped shots.
“It’s awesome isn’t it,” said Hansen on a year in which Thomas Björn, Soren Hansen, Anders and Tinning have all triumphed. “It’s been a great year for Danish golf. Four wins, four different winners. It’s unbelievable.”
Hansen is currently lying in 16th place in the Volvo Order of Merit and has his sights set on climbing into the top 15 to qualify for the US Open Championship. “It was fun today. I just tried to make as many birdies as I could and came out with ten. I have been struggling lately but played the last two weeks well. I played very aggressive out there. It is the end of the season and time to have some fun out there.
“I love this course. I looked down the first the first day I came here and thought this is a good course for me. Don’t know why but I like it. It’s a great course. The layout is great. Not overly long but a bit tricky.”
Tunnicliff, who claimed his maiden title earlier this year when he won The Great North Open, continued his good run of form by matching Hansen’s 66.
“I’m starting to play really nicely,” said the 34 year old. “I’ve been hitting the ball very well the last three or four weeks. The greens are excellent here and if you get the ball rolling you can start to hole the putts.”
Padraig Harrington’s bid to overtake Retief Goosen at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit started slowly with a one under par 71 after a frustrating day on the greens.
Two players, Klas Eriksson and Christopher Hanell, were left to complete their opening rounds as darkness fell.