Stephen Gallacher may be the only man in the world who can still qualify automatically for Europe’s Ryder Cup team at the 71st Italian Open presented by Damiani, but Francesco Molinari (pictured by Getty Images) grabbed the round one headlines in his homeland by taking a share of the six under par lead to make a great start to his bid to convince Paul McGinley to make him one of the three available Ryder Cup Captain’s Picks.
Gallacher, who needs to win or finish second (alongside no more than one other player) in Italy to earn enough World Ranking points to displace Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell from the automatic qualifiers, opened with a level par 72 at Circolo Golf Torino – La Mandria, the course on which Molinari and brother Edoardo grew up playing.
Francesco certainly took full advantage of his local knowledge, delighting the home crowds with a bogey-free 66 to rise to the top of the leaderboard alongside Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
England’s Richard Bland, American John Hahn, Northern Irishman Gareth Maybin, South African Hennie Otto and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay share second place on five under par, while McGinley, returning to the fairways after a two-month injury lay-off was unlucky to shoot one over.
The Irishman will name his three Captains Picks to complete his 12 man Ryder Cup Team next Tuesday at The European Tour’s headquarters at Wentworth Club.
Key Player Quotes
Francesco Molinari: “It’s great to play in front of your home crowd and so many family and friends here at my home club. There is expectation and pressure but I enjoy it. The expectation if you don’t get a good start can become too much but thankfully I made a good start and I hope the crowd enjoyed the day as much as I did.
“I have been in contact with Paul and texting throughout the season as I am sure he has done with all of the guys and we had a chat at the start of the week. He was basically just wishing me luck. There was no special message or anything. I think the good thing for me is that he knows what I can bring to the team because he has seen me in the last two Ryder Cups when he was a vice captain. But it is really up to me to prove how much I want to be on the team and I am playing well enough to get to Gleneagles. I don’t really know what I need to do to get a pick but I think I need to aim for a win this week and treat it like anything less than that would not be good enough.
Stephen Gallacher: “I was a little bit disappointed that I threw a couple of shots away mid round but all in all it was not bad – it’s only a few shots back. But it was quite tough today and I didn’t drive the ball great so even par is about right. I played some nice stuff but struggled with that tick rough and put myself out of position a few times. You have got to drive the ball well. I didn’t really do that today and you really need to be on the short stuff to try and have a go at the flags. That’s how you play this course. The tee shots are the key.
“I didn’t think about The Ryder Cup out there. Once you get out on the course you are just trying to birdie every hole. Playing golf is the easy part – it’s when you come off the course that you start to think about it. But I am not putting too much pressure on myself. I just want to go and try to iron a few things out on the range and get back out there tomorrow and put a low number in.”
Bernd Wiesberger: “It was good today. I had a great start early on and cooled down a little bit but it is a really good start so I am pleased. There are a few guys here – Francesco and Stevie – who might be thinking Ryder Cup and other things but I am not worrying about anything like that so hopefully I can stay lose and have a real go at it this week.
“My performance at the US PGA gave me a lot of confidence knowing I could get into that position and be in the last group in a Major. I probably should have tried to make more of a move in the final round but I didn’t drive the ball that well that day and couldn’t really get it going. It was actually the first time I have had a really good performance in America as well so it was a big, big week for me and a pretty cool experience to be out so late on a Sunday in a Major.”
Complete First round scores:
66 B Wiesberger (Aut); F Molinari (Ita);
67 G Maybin (Nir); J Hahn (USA); R Ramsay (Sco); H Otto (RSA); R Bland (Eng);
68 M Madsen (Den); M Kieffer (Ger); D Fichardt (RSA); F Aguilar (Chi); G Stal (Fra); F Laporta (Ita); E Lipparelli (am) (Ita);
69 J Hansen (Den); J Doherty (Sco); T Aiken (RSA); D Lipsky (USA); S Chowrasia (Ind); R Kakko (Fin); R Rock (Eng); D Huizing (Ned); M Warren (Sco); J Luiten (Ned); R Fisher (Eng);
70 C Del Moral (Esp); C Lee (Sco); S Kim (Kor); S Walker (Eng); A Saddier (Fra); A Hartø (Den); M Korhonen (Fin); A Quiros (Esp); L Slattery (Eng); A Sullivan (Eng); T Pieters (Bel); G Bhullar (Ind); J Morrison (Eng); S Benson (Eng); J McLeary (Sco); G Molteni (Ita); J Knutzon (USA);
71 M Nixon (Eng); B Rumford (Aus); S Hansen (Den); D Im (USA); V Riu (Fra); E Molinari (Ita); J Kruger (RSA); S Dyson (Eng); T Lewis (Eng); D Horsey (Eng); G Porteous (Eng); G Bourdy (Fra); M Bremner (RSA); C Doak (Sco); P Hanson (Swe); S Manley (Wal); A Bruschi (Ita); A Wall (Eng); E Goya (Arg); D McGrane (Irl); J Campillo (Esp); D Vancsik (Arg); G Migliozzi (am) (Ita);
72 M Bernardini (Ita); N Dougherty (Eng); E De La Riva (Esp); M Lampert (Ger); M Carlsson (Swe); D Clarke (Nir); A Gee (Eng); T Hatton (Eng); S Khan (Eng); F Bergamaschi (Ita); S Gallacher (Sco); P Harrington (Irl); N Bertasio (Ita); T Fleetwood (Eng); A Tadini (Ita); R Paratore (am) (Ita);
73 M Manassero (Ita); P Whiteford (Sco); D Howell (Eng); J Heath (Eng); M Siem (Ger); S Thornton (Irl); R Finch (Eng); S Kapur (Ind); R Cabrera-Bello (Esp); D Drysdale (Sco); K Broberg (Swe); R Wattel (Fra); P McGinley (Irl); G Coetzee (RSA); N Colsaerts (Bel); A Forsyth (Sco); P Archer (Eng); G Storm (Eng); A Levy (Fra); B Rusch (am) (Sui); M Cea (am) (Ita);
74 S Webster (Eng); T Nørret (Den); E Pepperell (Eng); N Ravano (Ita); M Foster (Eng); R Gonzalez (Arg); F Andersson Hed (Swe); W Ormsby (Aus); L Bjerregaard (Den); R Jacquelin (Fra); J Quesne (Fra); J Olazábal (Esp); J Dantorp (Swe); E Dubois (Fra); L Gagli (Ita); O Fisher (Eng); R Santos (Por); A Pavan (Ita); R Derksen (Ned);
75 N Elvira (Esp); P Sjöland (Swe); N Fasth (Swe); A Kaleka (Fra); M Crespi (Ita); S Wakefield (Eng); J Kingston (RSA); P Relecom (Bel);
76 K Horne (RSA); R Green (Aus); J Lara (Esp); M Jonzon (Swe); A Rota (Ita); J Walters (RSA); J Singh (Ind); J Jeong (Kor); E Di Nitto (am) (Ita);
77 B Henson (USA); C Wood (Eng); E Grillo (Arg); J Carlsson (Swe); T Levet (Fra); F Maccario (Ita); A Romano (Ita); M Grönberg (Swe);
78 J Lima (Por); P Lawrie (Irl); A Otaegui (Esp); J Parry (Eng); D Higgins (Irl); E Canonica (Ita); F Calmels (Fra); B Paolini (USA);
80 I Garrido (Esp); D Brooks (Eng);