Cape Town - Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen holds a one-shot lead over Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini after the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.
Pulkkanen fired seven birdies in a bogey-free 64 at Olgiata Golf Club on Thursday to match his lowest ever round on the European Tour.
A former European Challenge Tour Number One, Pulkkanen became a full-time member on the European Tour after achieving a career-best finish of third at last year's Joburg Open.
"I think the first year was a learning year," he said. "Second year has been more comfortable being here.
"I haven't played that well in the Rolex tournaments so it's kind of new situation as well but it's a long way to go and I feel good about my game.
"My putter was really hot today. I made a lot of putts, especially on the front nine, I was five under, I made a lot of long putts. It was perfect greens, so easy to make them."
Lying one shot behind Pulkkanen is former South African Sabbatini, who for years represented the country of his birth before becoming a citizen of Slovakia, the home country of his wife and stepson, in December of last year.
Making a rare appearance on the European Tour, Sabbatini mixed five birdies, a bogey and an eagle in his opening 65 to take sole possession of second place.
Sharing third a further shot back are Kurt Kitayama, Joost Luiten, Shubhankar Sharma, Bernd Wiesberger and World No 5 Justin Rose.
Further down the field, highly-ranked duo Francesco Molinari and Paul Casey both opened with level-par 71s.
Returning to action after being replaced at the top of the Race to Dubai rankings by Jon Rahm at last week's Open de Espana, Open champion Shane Lowry began his week in Italy with a one-over-par 72.
Leading and selected first round scores at the European Tour's Italian Open at the Olgiata Golf Club in Rome on Thursday (GBR/IRL unless stated, par 71):
64 - Tapio Pulkkanen (FIN)
65 - Rory Sabbatini (SVK)
66 - Shubhankar Sharma (IND), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Justin Rose, Joost Luiten (NED), Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)
67 - Joachim B. Hansen (DEN), Andrew Johnston, Matthew Fitzpatrick
68 - Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Daniel Willett, Ross Fisher, Chris Paisley, Matthias Schwab (AUT), Sam Horsfield, Tyrrell Hatton, Adrian Otaegui (ESP), Erik Van Rooyen (RSA)
69 - Matt Wallace, Graeme McDowell, David Horsey, Mikko Korhonen (FIN), Julien Guerrier (FRA), Francesco Laporta (ITA), George Coetzee (RSA), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Aaron Rai, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Andrea Pavan (ITA), Robert Macintyre, Jordan Smith, Lee Westwood, Alexander Levy (FRA)
71 - Francesco Molinari (ITA), Paul Casey
72 - Shane Lowry