Hot put­ter has ice-cool Finn ahead of the pack

● Five birdies in first eight holes puts Pulkka­nen in front in Italy

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - SPORT - BY PHIL CASEY

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.

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-yearold a one-shot lead over Slo­vakia’s Rory Sab­ba­tini, with world No 5 Justin Rose part of a five-strong group a shot back on five un­der.

“My put­ter was re­ally hot to­day,” Pulkka­nen ad­mit­ted.

“I made a lot of putts, es­pe­cially on my front nine. It was perfect greens, so easy to make them.

“I didn’t feel so com­fort­able with my warmup 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, 43, was born in South Africa but now rep­re­sents Slo­vakia, the home coun­try of his wife.

That means he is el­i­gi­ble to rep­re­sent Europe in the Ry­der Cup and is on the radar of cap­tain Padraig 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.

“The greens looked like they were get­ting bumpy but still hold­ing their line re­ally well, which is great.”

Kurt Ki­tayama, Joost Luiten, Shub­hankar Sharma and Bernd Wies­berger are along­side Rose on five un­der.

BIRDIES: Ta­pio Pulkka­nen fin­ished the day with a one-shot lead over Rory Sab­ba­tini

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