Justin Rose enjoys late Italian Open birdie blitz to get within two of lead
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 10/10/19 6:23pm
Justin Rose picked up five shots over the last eight holes to propel himself into contention after the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.
Rose was level par for the day and seven off the lead until he reeled off four birdies in five holes from the 11th and added another at 17 as he fired an excellent five-under 66 on the tournament's return to Olgiata Golf Club for the first time since 2002.
Tapio Pulkkanen will sleep on the outright lead after his bogey-free 64, with Rory Sabbatini emerging as his nearest challenger, with Rose among a group of five players in a share of third place. But home favourite Francesco Molinari has some ground to make up after he returned a 71.
Pulkkanen, winner of the Challenge Tour Order of Merit in 2017, started at the 10th and, after an early birdie at 11, he made four in a row from the 14th before he followed a steady run of pars with two more gains at five and six.
The 29-year-old Finn parred home to stay at seven under, a score which held up throughout the remainder of the day, although Sabbatini did threaten to grab a share of the lead until he got into trouble at the eighth - his 17th - and left his 25-foot par putt short.
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The South African-born Slovakian did bounce back with a birdie at the long ninth to cap a 65 for outright second, while Rose was the headline act in the logjam on five under, which also includes Bernd Wiesberger and Joost Luiten.
Rose made a confident start when he dropped a 20-footer for birdie at the first, but bogeys at the third and fifth left him eight shots off the pace until he revived his round with a welcome birdie at the seventh.
The world No 5, whose eighth place at the BMW PGA Championship is his only top-10 finish since the US Open in June, then got his putter to heat up on the back nine and his run of five birdies in seven holes gave him plenty of momentum to take into the second day.
"Obviously a nice birdie on No 1 and I felt good about things," said Rose. "But then I played four or five really poor holes where I was missing fairways, missing greens, really having to grind just to really be one over through six.
"Then I made a nice birdie at seven, and I sort of reset 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.
"I had a nice hot run on the back nine and got into much more of a flow, and I putted unbelievably. I read the greens really well and hit my lines. The greens looked like they were getting bumpy but still holding their line really well, which is great out there. So I hit enough good quality shots coming in and capitalised with the putter."
The ever-popular Andrew 'Beef' Johnston's round followed a similar pattern to Rose's as he birdied his first - the 10th - before bogeys at 15 and 16 left him over the card until he made a morale-boosting four at the long 17th.
Johnston then enjoyed an error-free front nine and a birdie-birdie finish completed a 67 which was matched by Matt Fitzpatrick, also also birdied eight and nine in an encouraging response to a double-bogey six at the fifth.
Wentworth winner Danny Willett continued his good form as he kept a bogey off his card, although he did leave a few birdie chances on the course in his 68, while former US Open champion Graeme McDowell's 69 was good enough to be tied for 20th with Matt Wallace and rising Scottish star Bob MacIntyre.
Molinari's bid for a third win on home soil, 13 years after his first, got off to a disappointing start as he bogeyed two of his first five holes, although he did pick up his first birdie of the tournament at the long 17th before having to settle for a run of nine consecutive pars.
But the 2018 Open champion gave his supporters a lift at the ninth when he holed from the fringe to salvage a 71, while playing-partner and current holder of the Claret Jug, Shane Lowry, was one further adrift.