By Martyn Herman
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, together with compatriot Matteo Manassero, staged an audacious Italian Job towards the top of the British Open leaderboard on Thursday.
The Molinaris, Ryder Cup team mates at Celtic Manor in 2010, scored identical four-under 68s in weather conditions more comparable to Naples than England's Merseyside coast before Manassero upstaged them both with a 67, just a stroke behind leader Rory McIlroy.
"It was a fantastic round and a wonderful way to start the Open championship in this wonderful weather," the 21-year-old Manassero, who finished 13th as an amateur in 2009, said after a round that contained seven birdies.
"It's great to be near the top of the leaderboard and I dream of having a Sunday afternoon tee time. It was a good day for three Italians."
For Edoardo Molinari, who is a year older than his brother, Thursday's form revived memories of 2010 when two European Tour victories earned him a wildcard place in Colin Montgomerie's triumphant Ryder Cup team.
Since then his career has been blighted by two wrist operations, the second of which was last November, although there have been signs this season that he is rediscovering the form that took him as high as 14th in the world rankings.
"Just to get in a major is the first step," said Molinari who qualified for the Open with a second-placed finish at the Irish Open last month.
"I was very happy a few weeks ago in Ireland when I got my spot here because it's less than a year after surgery. So that's quite a quick recovery.
"And to shoot a good number today and be in good position for the last three rounds, it's another step in the right direction."
Edoardo began in clinical fashion on the Royal Liverpool layout, carding a couple of threes to move to two-under. He gained another shot on the 10th before his sole bogey arrived at the 12th.
Two more birdies in the closing three holes left him well-placed, especially with stormy weather on the horizon.
"I think with the weather coming in for the next few days, it was very important to shoot a good number today," said Edoardo. "The course is playing as easy as it's going to play."
He was denied bragging rights over his brother, however, when Francesco conjured an eagle on the 18th hole to match his 68.
"My brother was two or three groups in front and I kept an eye on him. He had a faster start so I had to catch up," said Francesco, 31. "I was just happy to post a good score and it's put me in a good position hopefully.
"We've played together in the last group a couple of times and he won both tournaments so I need to improve my record when I'm playing with him but there's a lot of golf to go."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)