Darren Clarke seven off lead at Italian Open

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke fired a first round two-under-par 70 to lie seven shots off the lead at the Italian Open.

The 2016 European Ryder Cup captain’s round included an eagle, four birdies and four bogeys at the Golf Club Milano in Monza.

Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts leads the way on nine under, two ahead of Francesco Molinari, Shiv Kapur and Kristoffer Broberg.

Colsaerts hit eight birdies in a row on his way to a flawless opening 63 to set a daunting early target on Thursday.

Starting on the back nine, Colsaerts began with four pars before five straight birdies from the 14th took him out in 31.

The former Ryder Cup star then got up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-five first and also birdied the second and third to make it eight in a row, before narrowly missing from 20 feet on the next.

Due to the preferred lies in operation, Colsaerts’ achievement would not officially equal the European Tour record.

Colsaerts has not won since claiming the World Match Play Championship in 2012, which persuaded European captain Jose Maria Olazabal to give him a wild card for the contest in Medinah.

The former world number 32, now ranked 218th, has also been overtaken as Belgian number one by compatriot Thomas Pieters, who won his second event in succession in the KLM Open last week.

Ireland’s Paul McGinley is four under while Damien McGrane and Kevin Phelan are tied on one over following the first round.

Gavin Moynihan, part of Ireland’s winning Walker Cup squad, is making his professional debut at the event.