Shane Lowry has work to do if he's to secure a top-three finish at the Italian Open and leap to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.

Lowry headed the money list after his victory in Abu Dhabi back in January and moved back out in front after claiming that memorable Open Championship title at Royal Portrush in July.

Jon Rahm's second win of the season in the Mutuactivos Open de Espana on Sunday took him above Lowry in the standings, but the Ryder Cup star will not play again on the European Tour until the season-ending event in Dubai. 

If he managed to hoist himself inside the first three come Sunday evening Lowry would leapfrog Rahm but a first-round one-over 72 has him eight off pace-setter Tapio Pulkkanen.

Graeme McDowell is the best of the Irish. He's two-under after a fine 69, one shot better than Paul Dunne. Padraig Harrington is three-over following his 74. 

Tapio Pulkkanen leads the way

Finland's Pulkkanen claimed a slender lead after setting a target which proved too hot to handle.

Out in the first group from the 10th tee at 7.30am, Pulkkanen birdied five of his first eight holes and picked up further shots on the fifth and sixth to card a seven-under 64.

That gave the 29-year-old a one-shot lead over Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini, with world number five Justin Rose part of a five-strong group a shot further back on five under.

Sabbatini was born in South Africa but now represents Slovakia, the home country of his wife and stepson.

That means he is eligible to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup and the 43-year-old is on the radar of Europe captain Harrington.

"I think I've just got to continue to try and do what I did today, which is keep the ball in play," said Sabbatini, who has won six times on the PGA Tour.

"Obviously this is a golf course that I think accuracy is of prime importance out here. Putting it in play, and then continue to hit greens and I think if you get it on the greens in regulation, minimise the stress, and we'll see what happens."

Rose was level par after 10 holes at Olgiata Golf Club but birdied five of the next seven to move ominously into contention for his second win of the season.

Kurt Kitayama, Joost Luiten, Shubhankar Sharma and Bernd Wiesberger were alongside Rose on five-under, Wiesberger needing treatment on the course after injuring his right ankle on the second hole.

Home favourite Francesco Molinari is seven shots off the pace after struggling to a level-par 71.