Defending Italian Open champion Francesco Molinari was among six players to shoot a seven-under round of 64 in Milan as the fifth Rolex Series event of the year got under way on Thursday.
Molinari recorded a brilliant 22-under for the tournament to win by a single stroke from Danny Willett a year ago and he is seeking a historic third title, having also triumphed in the 2006 edition.
The 34-year-old made a flying start with birdies at the first and second, but dropped shots at the third and eighth holes left Molinari two-under at the turn.
A flawless back nine featured birdies at four of his last five holes, including a superb chip-and-run at the last, to leave Molinari among the leading pack at his home event.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat went out in the first group of the day and set the low-scoring tone with a bogey-free 64, picking up three birdies in the first four holes and maintaining his fine form throughout the round.
The Thai has not won on the European Tour since 2015 but showed he could be a contender for the Italian crown with a typically aggressive display of strokeplay from the off.
Sweden's Alexander Bjork, Englishman Eddie Pepperell, Jamie Donaldson of Wales and late climber Matt Wallace also hit rounds of 64.
Race to Dubai-leading trio Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm comprised the Italian Open's star group and while the Open de France winner could only record a level-par 72, both Spaniards are in the hunt after fine opening rounds.
Masters champion Garcia, who announced this week that he and his partner are expecting their first child, shot five-under and compatriot Rahm, number five in the world rankings, was a single shot back as the 22-year-old looks to follow up his star-making performance at July's Irish Open with a second Rolex Series success of the year.
270 yards. Out of the rough.— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 12, 2017
Of course he took it on! pic.twitter.com/ESnPuNiY5M
British Masters winner Paul Dunne looked in good shape to join the leaders after stringing together four birdies on the spin during his back nine, but a dropped shot at the 16th leaves the Irishman three shots off the pace.
Tyrell Hatton is not faring as well after his victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week, however, shooting an uneven round that featured three bogeys in his two-under round of 70.
|Clermont irked by ´absurd´ Saracens saga|
|Bairstow wants England to regain trust|
|Ronaldo´s ego is his biggest motivator - Valdano|
|Bayern threaten legal action over Leno transfer rumours|
|Thompson welcomes golf´s change in policy over viewer call-ins|
|Potter delighted by underdog Ostersunds´ trip to Arsenal|
|Chelsea can bounce back from West Ham loss, says Conte|
|Real Madrid will relish PSG test, says Xabi Alonso|
|Conte urges Chelsea to be ´positive´ over Barca Champions League draw|
|Heynckes wary of Besiktas threat|
|Ostersunds handed fairytale Arsenal tie, Napoli face Leipzig|
|Taylor pays moving tribute to Crowe after equalling century record|
|Emery: PSG ´can compete with Real Madrid´|
|Totti urges Roma focus on Serie A despite encouraging Champions League draw|
|Europa League: Last 32 draw in full|
|Messi faces toughest foe in Champions League|
|Tigers confirm broken jaw for Veainu as Tuilagi nears return|
|AC Milan signed too many players, admits Fassone|
|Real Madrid face PSG, Chelsea drawn with Barcelona|
|FA seeking information over Manchester derby incident|
|India agree to be Afghanistan´s first Test opponents|
|He is one of the best strikers in the Premier League - Wilshere hails Giroud|
|Jamshed banned for failing to co-operate with PCB anti-corruption unit|
|Mata: No time to mourn derby defeat|
|Hitzfeld tells Nagelsmann to honour Hoffenheim contract|
|Amor: Mascherano future to become clear soon|
|Good things come to those who wait - Shubhankar wins Joburg Open in Monday finish|
|Huddersfield confident of Chelsea scalp - Ince|
|Sea Eagles facing sanctions over salary cap breach|
|Paine denies Aussies have crossed line with Ashes sledging|
|Road to Super Bowl hits speed bump as Eagles sweat on Wentz fitness|
|Taylor hits record ton as Windies chase mammoth total|
|Oladipo´s career performance keeps Pacers rolling|
|De Bruyne: Man City have to enjoy derby victory|
|Suspended Smith-Schuster watches on in Steelers helmet|
|Bancroft and Warner ´kissed and made up´ after Adelaide mix up|
|There is no-one like Messi – Alcacer|
|Pederson unwilling to comment on Wentz amid ACL fears|
|Kane: Bring on the best in Champions League|
|Neville: Lukaku needs to believe amid Man United struggles|
|Fitzgerald now third all time in receiving yards|
|Eagles QB Wentz suffers knee injury|
|Messi best player of all time – Rakitic|
|Gattuso: I´m even tense playing football with my son|
|Suarez admits Villarreal red swung it for Barcelona|
|Villarreal win ´crucial´ for Barcelona boss Valverde|
|O´Hair and Stricker claim QBE Shootout crown|
|Sublime O´Sullivan equals major record with sixth UK Championship win|
|Villarreal 0 Barcelona 2: Suarez, Messi restore five-point LaLiga lead|
|AC Milan 2 Bologna 1: Bonaventura brace breaks Gattuso´s duck|
|Leinster end Exeter home streak, La Rochelle shine again|
|Texans QB Savage suffers concussion; brief return sparks controversy|
|Guardiola: Man City are an honest team|
|Snow joke! Bills and Colts play in brutal blizzard|
|Mourinho: Herrera denied clear penalty in derby defeat|
|Mourinho admits title race ´probably´ over|
|Josh Gordon scores first touchdown in four years|
|Simeone defends Atleti´s style after battling win over Betis|
|Manchester City´s 14th win on the spin sets new top-flight record|
|Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2: Otamendi strikes massive blow in Premier League title race|
|Bath concerned by injury to Wales forward Faletau|
|Allardyce praises ´brave´ Pawson after penalty decision|
|Atletico Madrid set club-record unbeaten run in LaLiga|
|Ajax 3 PSV 0: Eredivisie title race gets new lease of life|
|Klopp involved in post-match spat with reporter|
|Rooney backs awarding of ´clear penalty´|
|Mathews heaps praise on Lakmal as Sri Lanka end losing streak|
|Real Betis 0 Atletico Madrid 1: Rojiblancos make history to assuage Champions League pain|
|Klopp rages at referee after late penalty denies Liverpool|
|Shubhankar made to wait by weather|