South African Keith Horne set the clubhouse target at th Saab Wales Open, as Graeme McDowell turned on the style at The Celtic Manor Resort yet again with a four under par 67.
The defending champion and Ryder Cup hero from Northern Ireland returned to the scene of those triumphs keen to find form with his US Open Championship title defence only two weeks away now.
An eagle at the driveable 15th - his fifth - and then birdies at the sixth and seventh provided a timely boost after missing the halfway cut in last week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club.
Horne led the way with a seven under 64, but McDowell was handily placed in joint third spot on the course where he finished 64-63 last year.
Horne is making his debut in the event and arrived on Tuesday exhausted from 36 holes of trying - unsuccessfully - to qualify at Walton Heath for the US Open.
But he came home in a brilliant five under 30 and denied television suggestions that his bunker shot on the driveable par-four 15th was a shank.
"It was a hard shot and it just went straight right, but it was not a shank," said the 29 year old from Durban, who did not turn professional until five years ago after a spell in the army and then four years at university studying labour law.
Swede Peter Hanson, McDowell's playing partner and Ryder Cup teammate, tucked in just behind with a 65, while Irishman Damien McGrane and Australian Daniel Gaunt were four under.
Two more members of Colin Montgomerie's 2010 Ryder Cup side are in the field. Miguel Angel Jiménez was among the later starters - as was Montgomerie himself - but England's Ross Fisher came back from two early bogeys to be one under with two to play.
Hanson had four successive birdies from the 14th and then four more on the front nine, but there were also bogeys at the 13th and eighth.
McDowell said: "Overall I'm very happy with the way I played. I went a little cold with the putter in the middle, but I'm really flighting the ball correctly and can see my way round the course.
"It's definitely been a good hunting ground for me and I'm hoping to continue that. It's good, it's positive and I know I can go low here."
Fisher parred the last - actually the short tenth - for a one under 70 as he continued his bid to climb back into the world's top 50 and so claim a spot in the US Open Championship.
Montgomerie bogeyed the first three holes and playing partner Jiménez had a double bogey on the 433 yard fifth, but Frenchman Victor Dubuisson made a flying start.
After birdies at the 11th and 14th he matched McDowell's eagle at the next and joined him on four under - with 12 holes still to play.
Scotland’s Elliot Saltman holed-in-one at the 211 yard 17th - a hole made famous by McDowell beating Hunter Mahan to decide The Ryder Cup last October - and he followed it with another eagle at the 575 yard last.
However, Saltman was left wishing his shot had come an hour earlier at the 189 yard 13th. One of the sponsors' cars is the prize there, whereas his reward was a magnum of champagne.
The 29 year old finished with a two over par 73, the same score as his brother Lloyd.
Montgomerie, whose seventh place at Wentworth Club last Sunday was his first top ten for almost three years, managed just a five over 41 for the front nine - and Jiménez was only one better.
Dubuisson, on the other hand, went third on his own at five under with another birdie at the long 18th, his eighth.