Victor Dubuisson continued his excellent recent form with a four under par 68 to lead by two after the first round of the Ballantine’s Championship.
The Frenchman, who has finished fourth and 11th in the first two legs of The European Tour’s Far East swing, defied windy conditions and undulating greens to card eight birdies at Blackstone Golf Club.
Five players lie two shots back after signing for rounds of 70 – but only England’s Paul Casey, like Dubuisson, played in the more blustery afternoon conditions.
Wales’ Jamie Donaldson, England’s Mark Foster, Korean Jung Ji-ho and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay all took advantage of more benign morning conditions to move into contention.
Dubuisson started with a bogey at the tenth, but responded with five birdies and only one further dropped shot before the turn for an outward 33.
He picked up another shot at the par five first, but had to take a penalty drop at the fourth after an errant tee shot, then fired his third over the green, chipped to ten feet and missed the bogey putt.
After dropping two shots the 22 year old responded with a birdie at the next to retake the lead, and re-established his two shot advantage with another gain at the sixth.
“Very pleased with playing four under today,” said Dubuisson, who is searching for a first European Tour win.
“My putting was really, really good today and I think it's the only way to achieve good scoring in these conditions.
“On the third hole the wind was from the left, and so on the fourth tee I thought the wind was going to be sort of left to right, but the wind was turning all the time.
“The wind just turned right to left and it went into the water. So I was not really upset after this double bogey because I didn't hit a bad shot.
“I did my best to get back my concentration, and I made two birdies, good putts on five and six, and that was the good turn today.”
Casey dropped shots at the ninth and 11th as The Ryder Cup star dropped back to level par, but after a birdie at the 14th he played a fine tee shot at the short 16th to claim a share of second place.
“I know if I play the golf I'm capable of, I've got a very good chance to win,” said the Englishman, who only recently returned to action after injuring his shoulder in a snowboarding accident. “The way I played today, I need to keep that form going, because there's a long way to go.”
Donaldson gave himself the platform to launch a bid for his first European Tour title as the 36 year old continued the good form that saw him finish third in Morocco last month.
That was the 32nd top-ten finish of Donaldson’s European Tour career, but despite being a perennial contender in his 250 events to date, the Welshman is yet to land a first victory.
Starting his round at the tenth, Donaldson got off to a flyer courtesy of a four iron approach to within a foot for an opening birdie.
Another gain came at the 16th from six feet, but he birdied the long 18th after pushing his drive right into the trees.
Back-to-back birdies from ten feet at the fourth and fifth gave Donaldson the outright lead, but he three-putted from the fringe on the seventh for his second bogey of the day.
“I played nicely,” he said. “It is tricky. I made a lot of good up and downs but overall a pretty tough day.
“You've just got to put it in position off the tees and see where it falls. One of the easiest holes was 18, and I bogeyed. You have to play well and put it in position.”
Former South African Open champion Ramsay overcame a double bogey seven at the long fifth with five birdies and one other bogey.
“I putted beautifully,” said the 28 year old. “The greens are really, really nice. It still is tricky because you get gusts of wind.
“When I made a mistake, I got up and down and I managed to convert a few opportunities.
“All in all it was a good day, but it was really getting tough out there. There’s lots of positives from it, and I drove the ball well. But ultimately, I putted nicely, which is great to see and long may it continue.”
Donaldson’s playing partner Foster, whose only European Tour title in 300 events came back in 2003, had four birdies and two bogeys in his round.
“I've not seen any scores, but the wind is wicked,” he said. “It is just all over. It's not the strength of the wind - it's funnelling, and you just hit it out there and hope it does what you want. Ball flight is everything, really.”
Jung, who birdied the last for a round of 70, added: “My iron shots went very well. I had one bogey and three birdies, and the one bogey came from a three putt, so overall I thought the game went very well.”
World Number 12 Adam Scott and Ryder Cup stars Paul McGinley and Ross Fisher were amongst those to go round in 71 as just 17 players finished under par.