Frenchman Benjamin Hebert set the pace at the Mugello Tuscany Open, carding a six under par 65 to lead by one two shots.
The 24 year old eagled the par five 18th and had six birdies in perfect conditions at Poggio dei Medici Golf Club on the outskirts of Florence, Italy.
Spaniard Jordi Garcia and Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson opened with 67s and are two shots back, while a group of five players – including Matt Ford of England who is currently fourth in the Challenge Tour Rankings - are three under par.
Hebert, who won the European Amateur Championship four years ago, said: “The conditions were very good this morning, lovely and sunny and no wind at all. The greens were good and I was able to hole some good putts for birdies and a nice one for eagle at the 18th. It was a nice way to finish – I hit my second shot to about five or six metres from the pin and rolled the putt straight in.
“I didn’t start that well but then my game came to me and after that I played very well all the way round. The course is great, although it’s tough physically because it’s so up and down. But the fairways and greens are fantastic so I’m looking forward to the next three rounds.”
Garcia also had a fine finish, picking up a shots at the 14th and 18th in addition to a three-hole birdie run from the second.
He said: “I’ve been practising hard the last three or four months and it’s paying off now as I’m playing well. Last week I was at the Open de España and finished 40th, which should have been a lot better but I shot seven over par in the third round. But apart from that I played very well and was very happy.
“Four under on this course is very difficult. It’s long and narrow, but I’ll just try to do my best again tomorrow.”
Akesson said: “I’m very happy. I played solid, only missed a few times and scrambled well when I did. I had one three-putt, on the back nine, and I hit one wedge in the water, but apart from that it was pretty good.
“This is my fourth Challenge Tour event of the season and so far it’s going okay. I was 12th last week at the Allianz Challenge de France. Over the winter I practised in Spain and South Africa and my game is good now, especially my putting. But during the winter I still made sure I had enough time to ski in Sweden.”
Englishman Ford, who finished runner-up in the Gujarat Kensville Challenge earlier this year, said: “It’s only the first day but that was a good start. I was very good from tee to green and I think I hit 16 greens.
“I’m loving the Italian life here this week. The weather’s great, the food’s good, we’re staying in a lovely place and the golf course is excellent.”
Laurie Canter, the Englishman making his Challenge Tour debut having turned professional two days ago, signed for a one under par 70, while the lowest scoring of the Italian contingent was Andrea Maestroni, who was two under par.
However, Italian Fernando Pascqualucci, among the afternoon groups, made a fine start and was two under after three holes.
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