Tapio Pulkkanen takes first round lead at Italian Open

Tapio Pulkkanen leads after the first round of the Italian Open. Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen matched his career-best score on the European Tour with a seven-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead Thursday after the first round of the Italian Open.

Pulkkanen, who graduated from the European Challenge Tour last season, sunk seven birdies and did not have any bogeys at the Olgiata Golf club.

"It's a very tough, demanding, long golf course, narrow," Pulkkanen said. "You've got to hit some shots out there.

"I had a nice start, 3-under after five, and that gets me going. It was nice to make a couple more on the back nine."

Rory Sabbatini, the South African-born player who began representing Slovakia this year, had an eagle on the par-5 17th and was in second place.

Five players -- Kurt Kitayama, Joost Luiten, Shubhankar Sharma, Bernd Wiesberger and Justin Rose -- were at five under.

With a $7 million purse as part of the Rolex Series, the tournament is making its return to Rome after a 17-year absence from the Italian capital.

The Rome return is part of the buildup to the 2022 Ryder Cup at the nearby Marco Simone club.