Rory Sabbatini aiming for Slovakian first at European Tour's Italian Open

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Rory Sabbatini aiming for Slovakian first at European Tour's Italian Open

Euro Tour

Rory Sabbatini aiming for Slovakian first at European Tour's Italian Open

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The leaderboard at the end of the $7 million Italian Open begged one important question: has a Slovakian ever won a European Tour event?

Make that a resounding no. Rory Sabbatini could be in line to become the first.

South African born Sabbatini trails Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen by a shot after a six-under 65 around Olgiata Golf Club in Italian capital Rome. Sabbatini, a six-time PGA Tour winner, took out Slovakian citizenship at the end of 2018 in support of Slovakian wife Martina.

Sabbatini has been as high as eighth in the world. He’s now 78th. His closest competitor in the Slovakian pecking order is Sebastian Vida at world number 2071, and he’s an amateur. Needless to say, Sabbatini might be Slovakia’s best hope of golf glory for a little while. The 42 year old can put his adopted country on the map if he continues the way he started in Rome.

Leaderboard: Italian Open

The former President’s Cup player only made one mistake in his first round, a bogey at the eighth. However, he threw in five birdies and an eagle to get onto the leaderboard.

“Obviously it’s nice to be here playing in Italy,” Sabbatini said. “I’ve got some roots here in Italy. I think just got to continue to try and do what I did today. Keep the ball in play. This is a golf course that I think accuracy is of prime importance out here. You know, putting it in play, and then continue to hit greens and I think if you get it on the greens in regulation, minimize the stress, and we’ll see what happens.”

Pulkkanen has no pressure to become the first Finn to win on the European circuit. Compatriot Mikko Ilonen took care of that years ago. He won five times before he retired last year. The pressure on Pulkkanen is to try to keep his playing rights for next year.

The world number 353 is currently 102nd on the Race to Dubai, eight spots inside the magic 110 mark that determines who keeps and loses cards for 2020. He needs a big week to ease the pressure over the rest of the season.

“My putter was really hot today, and I didn’t make any bogeys, so it was good,” the 29 year old said.

I think my first year on the European Tour was a learning year. Second year has been more comfortable being here. I haven’t played that well in the Rolex tournaments, so this is kind of new situation, but it’s a long way to go and I feel good about my game.”

Justin Rose will be the player both are looking over their shoulder at. The world number five is in a five-way tie for third on 5 under after a 66. The Englishman has no pressure on him whatsoever. The Olympic champion is gunning for his third Rolex Series win.

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