Monza, October 12 - Francesco Molinari, going for his third Italian Open win, topped the leader board at seven under on day one of this year's event at Monza. "It was great to get off to a good start, but there's still a lot of hard work to be done," said Molinari, who added: it was great to see so many people out on the course getting behind me". In August Molinari came joint second in the US PGA championship, two strokes behind winner Justin Thomas, equalling the best finish by an Italian in a major. At six under, the Turin-born golfer finished level with USA's Patrick Reed and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, equalling Costantino Rocca's second place behind John Daly after a play-off in the 1995 Open Championship. Molinari, who won last year's Italian Open as well as in 2006 and is aiming for his third win this year, told ANSA ahead of the tournament that many championship golfers "now look at Italy as a golfing destination for their trips". Molinari said this year's Italian Open, which will take place at the Golf Club Milano on October 12-15, has a "fantastic field" of professionals who will compete for the title. "There's great satisfaction and excitement in being able to defend the title in Italy, in front of our fans," Molinari said. "There will be many champions and it will be truly stimulating to compete with them," he said. "Thanks to the awarding of the Ryder Cup, the Italian Open has made an incredible leap in terms of international prestige," said the 35-year-old from Piedmont. "The increase in prize money is the most obvious proof. I live in London and I play mostly in the United States on the PGA Tour. I can assure you that the prospect of the Ryder Cup 2022 has contributed to changing the image of Italian golf in the eyes of foreigners," said Molinari, the younger of the two Molinari brothers, both of whom are professional golfers. He said last year's win was "a really great joy". "Winning at home is always special. I was coming from a season with good results, but winning in Monza gave my year another dimension," he said. Still young, Molinari already has a first-rate list of victories and said that although all wins are special, perhaps his win in Spain is the one he remembers with the most joy because it took place as part of a comeback, so it had a "special flavour". "I remember it with particular joy, together with the World Cup with my brother Edoardo," he said. Golf in Italy is slowing changing from a niche, elitist sport to one that's becoming more popular, as shown by the prestigious recognition of hosting the Ryder Cup in 2022. "It's true, golf is changing a lot, it's becoming more global, both from a tournament point of view as well as the point of view of high-level players, who are continually coming from more countries," Molinari said. "Living outside of Italy, it isn't easy to judge, but what I can say is that unfortunately golf isn't part of Italian sport culture, which is why the promotion work of the Federation isn't easy. "I think they're doing what's possible, and professionals such as Montali can only help this sport. As far as I'm concerned, the main objective for 2018 is always that of improving and reaching ambitious goals. I'll concentrate, as I have in recent years, above all on the PGA Tour in America, trying to improve the results obtained this season".
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