José Manuel Lara overcame an early double bogey to finish day one of the Sicilian Open tied for the lead with Stephen Dodd.
The Spaniard produced nine birdies to finish with a six under par 65, matching Dodd’s earlier effort at Donnafugata Golf Resort & SPA.
The 33 year old Lara was in danger of losing his card six months ago, but victory at the Austrian GolfOpen presented by Botarin restored his self-belief.
“It changed everything for me,” he said. “Before I won there I thought I was going to lose my card and didn’t know what I was really going to do but after winning there I have been able to look to the future.”
After picking up a shot at the third Lara’s round threatened to unravel when he took six at the 422 yard next.
“It was a strange one,” he added. “I basically got a flier from the rough and the ball just went so far – straight behind a tree and I couldn’t do anything from there.”
However he responded with a birdie at the next and by coming home in a five under 31 the World Number 342 - who missed 21 cuts prior to his victory last year - was able to claim a share of the lead.
He was joined by Welsh veteran Dodd, who mixed six birdies with two bogeys before a late eagle on the par five 16th.
The 44 year old has won three times on The European Tour, but not since 2006 and has not finished better than 40th in four events this season.
“I did a lot of good things out there today,” Dodd said. “I kept in play most of the time, hit some good iron shots and I putted well which is always a key for any good round.”
France’s Rapahaël Jacquelin and England’s Anthony Wall sit a shot further back on five under, ahead of Wall’s compatriots Chris Wood and Steve Webster and Australian duo Daniel Gaunt and Matthew Zions.
Challenge Tour graduate Gaunt led for most of the morning after starting his day with a hattrick of birdies en route to an outward 30.
But his progress was checked with three bogeys on the back nine, including one at the last, as he signed for a 67.
“Got off to a good start, drove the ball ok for the first few holes,” said Gaunt. “I’ve been hitting it really good in previous tournaments not holing putts and not getting a score so I’m pretty happy with the way I putted.”
Wood - still searching for a first European Tour title after 14 top-ten finishes - had five birdies and one dropped shot at the difficult 16th, while Zions eagled both par fives on the back nine.
Former Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie gave himself every chance of a first top-ten finish for three years with a two under 69, but former Open Champion Paul Lawrie shot a one over 72.
“I fought back well – it could have been 76 in a hurry that but I managed to follow Raphaël [Jacquelin, his playing partner] a little bit and got the four birdies to his five so it was good,” said Montgomerie.
“We enjoyed it out there. Tomorrow’s forecast isn’t great so I think the best thing to do is go and get some sleep and get out there early tomorrow and try and keep it going.”