MILAN - Sweden's Rikard Karlberg fended off fatigue to begin his defence of the rain-affected Italian Open by carving out a one-shot lead over local hope Francesco Molinari on Thursday in Milan. Almost five hours of play were lost on the opening day of the EPGA event after heavy rain and lightning battered the Parco Reale di Monza course in the early hours of the morning.

But Karlberg, who secured his maiden EPGA title at the Open last year when he birdied the second extra hole to beat Martin Kaymer in a dramatic play-off, put those concerns to one side on his way to a seven-under-par 64.

Karlberg boasted six birdies, including three in his opening four holes, and after suffering his only bogey on the par-four eighth, he made amends with an eagle on the par-five ninth. "That's as good as it gets," said Karlberg, 29. "It was a great round. I felt at a few tournaments there have been too many bogeys, I haven't been able to save par to get the round going and today I did that. "I kept my cool even though it was a longer day. Standing over the last shot into green on the ninth I just told myself, 'I'm so tired, but it's just one more shot'. Pleased to execute as good as I did." Fellow Swede Robert Karlsson is tied for third place on five under with Spain's Adrian Otaegui, with nine players including England's Richard Bland sharing a tie for fifth place. At four shots off the pace is Sweden's Peter Hanson and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, although some of the big names in the field struggled to keep apace, while others had yet to complete their round due to delays with the weather.

England's Lee Westwood had only two bogeys in his one-under-par round of 70 but with only three birdies on his card the Ryder Cup team player is six shots off the pace. Westwood said this week was all about preparation for the Ryder Cup on September 27 to October 2 at the American venue of Hazeltine. "Hopefully I can get myself in contention and get the competitive juices flowing," said the 43-year-old. "Next week is a week off, I'll work on my game at home and do a bit of gym work to keep the body ticking over, but I don't want to overdo it because the Ryder Cup is obviously a long and tiring week, both mentally and physically."

Germany's Marcel Siem, Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and France's Victor Dubuisson were among 22 players to make par. Seventeen players failed to complete even one hole because of the nasty mixture of heavy rain, thunder and lightning.