(Reuters) - Francesco Molinari, who believes he needs to win this week's Italian Open to snatch a last-gasp Ryder Cup place, took a share of the lead after the first round in Turin on Thursday.
The 31-year-old Italian is outside the top nine qualifying positions going into the last counting event and is hoping to force captain Paul McGinley's hand as the Irishman prepares to announce his three wildcard picks on Tuesday.
"I have been in contact with Paul and texting throughout the season, as I am sure he has done with all of the guys, and we had a chat at the start of the week," Molinari told reporters after joining Austrian Bernd Wiesberger on six-under-par 66.
"He was basically just wishing me luck. There was no special message or anything. I think the good thing for me is that he knows what I can bring to the team because he has seen me in the last two Ryder Cups when he was a vice-captain.
"It is really up to me to prove how much I want to be in the team and I am playing well enough to get to Gleneagles next month," said Molinari.
"I don't really know what I need to do to get a pick but I think I need to aim for a win this week and treat it like anything less than that would not be good enough."
Molinari, who captured the Italian Open title in 2006, said he relished playing at his home club at Circolo Golf Torino.
"The expectation if you don't get a good start can become too much but thankfully I made a good start and I hope the crowd enjoyed the day as much as I did," he said.
Britain's Richard Bland, Gareth Maybin and Richie Ramsay shared third spot on 67 with American John Hahn and South African Hennie Otto.
Stephen Gallacher was six shots off the pace but the Scot, who can displace world number 16 Graeme McDowell in the top nine automatic Ryder Cup selections by finishing first or second this week, was not too downhearted.
"I was a little bit disappointed I threw a couple of shots away mid-round but all in all it was not bad," said Gallacher. "I didn't drive the ball great so even-par is about right.
"I didn't think about the Ryder Cup out there. Once you get out on the course you are just trying to birdie every hole.
"Playing golf is the easy part - it's when you come off the course that you start to think about it," added the nephew of former captain Bernard. "I am not putting too much pressure on myself."
(Writing by Tony Jimenez, editing by Robert Woodward)
- Sports & Recreation
- Francesco Molinari
- Ryder Cup
- Paul McGinley