Graeme McDowell is three shots off the lead at the Italian Open after a strong opening 66 sent him to the clubhouse on five-under-par.

Wicklow's Paul Dunne recovered from a poor start to card a two-under in the weather interrupted opening round but finds himself well back from joint leaders Robert Rock and Laurie Canter.

Dunne bogeyed his opening two holes at the Gardagolf country club in Brescia but responded with birdies at 3 and 4. He remained at even par after the front nine but birdied four of the six holes, only giving back a stroke at the par 4 11th. 

His round finished on a bum note with a bogey on the 18th, to leave him at two under par after his opening round. 

Former Masters champion Danny Willett carded his lowest round of the season as he looks to halt his alarming slide down the world rankings.

Willett reached a career-high of ninth in the world after claiming his first major title at Augusta National in 2016, but has since plummeted to 462nd after struggling with injuries and a loss of form.

The 30-year-old was forced to withdraw from his scheduled season opener in Abu Dhabi with a shoulder problem and has missed the cut in all but one of nine starts in 2018.

But on a day of low scoring at Gardagolf in Brescia, Willett compiled a bogey-free, six-under-par 65 to lie just two shots off the lead shared by fellow Englishmen Rock and Canter and South Africa's Richard Sterne.

Canter, who was a promising junior tennis player who once played Andy Murray, made the most of his late entry into the €5.9m event with six birdies and an eagle in a flawless 63.

"I got a call Sunday night saying you're into the event, which was a nice bonus," Canter said. "I was just putting some meat on the barbecue. I was over the moon.

"I was thinking I would travel as a reserve, but obviously to get in Sunday night and prepare Monday through Wednesday I was really, really excited and ready to go today."