Monza, Italy (AP) — Defending champion and home favorite Francesco Molinari was among six players who shared a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Italian Open.
Jamie Donaldson, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace and Alexander Bjork also shot 7-under 64s Thursday at the Golf Club Milano, next to Monza’s Formula One circuit.
George Coetzee and An Byeong-hun were both one stroke back in the Rolex Series event, which has an increased purse of $7 million this year as part of the buildup to the 2022 Ryder Cup outside Rome.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia stood in a group two strokes behind the leaders, while playing partner and fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm was among those three shots behind.
Tommy Fleetwood, who leads the Race to Dubai ahead of Garcia and Rahm, had some ground to make up after a par 71.
Molinari chipped in for birdie at No. 18, his ninth hole of the day, and finished with nine birdies and two bogeys.
“I started pretty much where I left off last year,” Molinari said.
With no ticket fees, Molinari had a lot of fan support.
“It’s great to see the crowds,” he said. “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 sinking four birdies in his first eight holes before saving par at the 18th.
“This course really suits my game — small greens, quite a narrow golf course — and my driver and putter are working so well,” Aphibarnat said.