Frenchman Dominique Nouailhac fired an opening 65 to finish at the front of the field in the Charles Church Challenge Tour Championship at Bowood Golf and Country Club in Wiltshire, England.
He had eight birdies on his card to open a two-shot lead from a group of eight players including six Englishmen, another Frenchman and an Italian.
Nouailhac is in a rich vein of form at the moment. He started and finished with rounds of 66 last week in the Gunther Hamburg Classics in Germany and his 65, carded in the afternoon, was an extension of that form.
He even started with his only dropped shot, a four at the short second, but then reeled off four successive birdies before adding another at the ninth to turn in 32.
He opened the back nine with two more birdies while another at the 14th completed his haul. “I drove the ball OK but my iron play was superb,” he said. “I knocked it close on many holes but I also had my share of luck with some favourable bounces which you need if you are going to shoot 65.”
The Bowood course can be a fearsome prospect, but today it was at its most benign with hot, sunny weather and a light breeze. In these conditions, it was England’s Mark Foster, currently ranked five, who set the early target with a 67.
The 25 year old, who closed this tournament last year with 66, would have repeated that score with six birdies. But for a bogey-five at the ninth, his last hole following a poor drive, which finished in a bad lie from where he couldn't reach the green.
"This is not the easiest place to score well, so I'm happy with 67," he said.
Another Englishman, Andrew Marshall, also had six birdies and is on course to improve on his current ranking of seven, while Chris Gane, currently 20th, was also round in 67, his best ever score at Bowood.
"This is the first time I have shot under par here," he said. "I had 74 two years ago and never made the cut, so I'm improving."
Paul Sherman from Kent, who has been suffering on the Challenge Tour this year, also opened with 67 with seven birdies. "It's nice to shoot a low score on the opening day and not to have to chase one on day two," he said. "I've played poorly for most of the year. shooting the odd good round, but not consistently well."
Denny Lucas, also finished five under after a return to form. "My game has been off for the past month but I had a lesson with Peter Cowan two weeks ago and things are coming round," he said.
Completing the English group on 67 was Philip Golding, who kept a bogey off his card while running in five birdies. "This is my best return at Bowood, but you won't play this course in much easier condition," he said.
Nouailhac’s fellow countryman, Jean-Francois Lucquin had seven birdies in his 67, including one each at his final two holes. “My putting was very good,” he admitted, “and I dove the ball well.”
Alberto Binaghi was also a happy man. He got the best possible start with an eagle-three at the 10th, firing a two iron to 10 feet and holing the putt. He added three birdies to turn in 31 and got to six under with his fourth birdie at the long third.
But an eight iron approach to the eighth bounced into a water hazard and he had to take a drop to finish with a five.
After signing for his 67 he said: “Everything went well and after that birdie at the third I felt I might get to seven under. But I got a bad bounce at the eighth and took bogey. Even then I had a chance at the ninth (his last) but I missed from three feet.”
On a crowded leaderboard, six more players are on 68, while 52 players finished under par.