Molinari leads Ryder Cup brigade at Italian Open

Francesco Molinari was the top Ryder Cup performer on the first day of the Italian Open on Thursday, two weeks from Europe's showdown against the United States in Illinois.

The Italian carded a four-under 68 at the Royal Park I Roveri course to finish the first round four strokes behind the leader, Sweden's Joel Sjoholm.

Molinari, the 2006 winner of this tournament, was two shots better off than Ryder Cup teammates, Martin Kaymer and team captain Jose Maria Olazabal, while Nicolas Colsaerts was a shot further back on one under.

"It's fun playing in front of the home crowd, but there's a lot of pressure and everyone wants you to do well," said Molinari.

"It would be nice to give them a nice week, but it's quite tough. It was nice to spend some time together (with Nicolas Colsaerts and Martin Kaymer) and I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun in America as well.

"We talked a little about a few things, but not too much."

The Ryder Cup takes place at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois from September 28-30.

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Sjoholm, who missed the cut in his last two tournaments, was the first round leader after an eight under par 64.

"I want revenge. The last two weeks I actually played quite good golf," said the Swede.

"Normally when I score well, I have to putt well. The last few weeks I've putted quite poorly and missed the cut by one stroke. Both times I felt like I had a good chance to make the cut, but you have to forget and keep moving on."

England's Lee Slattery picked up three shots in his last four holes to snatch second late in the day on seven under.

France's Victor Dubuisson, South Africans Keith Horne and Garth Mulroy, Northern Ireland's Gareth Maybin and English trio Richard Bland, David Howell and Richard McEvoy all shot rounds off 66 to form a seven-way tie for third.