Hot putter has ice-cool Finn ahead of the pack
● Five birdies in first eight holes puts Pulkkanen in front in Italy
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