Golf: Defending champion Karlberg leads Italian Open

Rikard Karlberg of Sweden (above in July 2016) hit a seven-under-par 64.
Rikard Karlberg of Sweden (above in July 2016) hit a seven-under-par 64.PHOTO: AFP

MILAN (AFP) - Sweden's Rikard Karlberg began his defence of the rain-affected Italian Open by carving out a one-shot lead over local hope Francesco Molinari on Thursday (Sept 15) in Milan.

Almost five hours of play were lost on the opening day of the EPGA event after heavy rain and lightning battered the Parco Reale di Monza course in the early hours of Friday morning.

But Karlberg, who secured his maiden EPGA title at the Open last year when he birdied the second extra hole to beat Martin Kaymer in a dramatic play-off, put those concerns to one side on his way to a seven-under-par 64 and a one-shot lead over Molinari.

Karlberg boasted six birdies, including three in his opening four holes, and after suffering his only bogey on the par-four eighth, he made amends with an eagle on the par-five ninth.

Fellow Swede Robert Karlsson is tied for third place on five under with Spain's Adrian Otaegui, with nine players including England's Richard Bland sharing a tie for fifth place.

At four shots off the pace is Sweden's Peter Hanson and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, although some of the big names in the field struggled to keep apace.

England's Lee Westwood had only two bogeys in his one-under-par round of 70 but with only three birdies on his card the Ryder Cup team player is six shots off the pace.

Germany's Marcel Siem, Scottish pair Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and France's Victor Dubuisson were among 22 players to make par.