Thursday, 12 October 2017
Day 1 Highlights - Italian Open

Defending champion Francesco Molinari sat in a six-way tie for the lead at the end of the first round of the Italian Open after delighting home fans with a stunning 64.

Huge crowds headed to Golf Club Milano on Thursday morning to witness the start of Molinari's title defence and they were treated to a phenomenal display, with the four-time European Tour winner carding nine birdies and two bogeys to get to seven under par.

Fellow early starters Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jamie Donaldson and Alexander Björk also posted opening 64s, while Englishmen Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace matched them in the afternoon.

George Coetzee and Byeong Hun An were in a tie for sixth on six under, while Masters Tournament winner Sergio Garcia and World Number 15 Alex Noren were among the large group another stroke back.

Starting at the tenth tee, Molinari followed up a gain at the 11th with a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th, including a brilliant 20-foot putt at the 16th.

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 - Francesco Molinari

The Italian finished his front nine in style, chipping in for a birdie at the 18th to get to five under before picking up further shots at the first and second to grab a share of the lead.

A dropped shot at the third threatened to derail his challenge but, after pulling off two tremendous par saves at the fourth and fifth, he fired another birdie at the sixth to return to seven under.

Molinari dropped his second shot of the day at the eighth when he failed to get out of the rough next to the green at the first attempt but he bounced back with a closing birdie to rejoin the group at the top of the leaderboard.

Molinari said: "Obviously it was another good day. I started 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."

Thailand's Aphibarnrat led for most of the morning after firing four birdies in his first eight holes before pulling off an important par save at the 18th.

The 28 year old's red-hot putter helped him make further gains at the first, third and fourth and he safely parred the final five holes to sign for a flawless 64.

Aphibarnrat said: "I'm really happy with the way I played in the first round - seven under. 

"This course really suits my game - small greens, quite a narrow golf course and my driver and putter are working so well, so that's why I made a good start."

Björk reached the turn in 32 after making birdies at the 14th, 15th and 17th before rolling in his ten-foot putt at the first to move to four under.

He then finished his round with a flourish, firing birdies at the sixth, eighth and ninth to get to seven under.

"I played really solid today," said Björk. "I'm really pleased with that round."

Welshman Donaldson started brightly, firing back-to-back birdies at the first and second before repeating the trick at the eighth and ninth.

The 2014 Ryder Cup star made it three birdies in a row when he began his back nine with another gain.

Donaldson dropped a shot at the short 12th but made amends with a birdie at the 14th before finishing his round with two consecutive gains to move to seven under.

Donaldson said: "I played really well. I didn't do much wrong really today, that was the secret. 

"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."

Like Donaldson, Pepperell began his round with two birdies in a row and he added another at the sixth to get to three under.

The 26 year old dropped his only shot of the day at the eighth but got it back at the ninth before firing another birdie at the 11th to get to four under par.

And Pepperell got to within one shot of the leaders when he holed his eight-foot eagle putt at the 14th before knocking in from ten feet for a birdie at the 17th to join them on seven under.

He said: "It was good. Seven under, the same as Sunday. I mean, the last two rounds - 14 under - that's good scoring. 

"My scoring has been good. I think that's probably a product of just nothing being bad on my game."

Starting from the tenth, Wallace covered his front nine in 33 strokes before firing three birdies in his first four holes on the back nine to jump into contention.

Another birdie at the sixth took the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort champion to six under but he looked unlikely to catch the leaders when he dropped a shot at the next.

However, he closed his round with back-to-back birdies to move into a share of the lead.

Wallace said: "Great start to the event. I love the golf course - I kind of knew that when I walked up there and played practice rounds. It really suits my eye."

A Rolex Series Event

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1HATTON, TyrrellENG18-21
T2FISHER, RossENG18-20
T2APHIBARNRAT, KiradechTHA18-20
4WALLACE, MattENG18-19
5FRASER, MarcusAUS18-18
T6HORSEY, DavidENG18-17

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