David Horsey produced a flawless opening round 65 to hold a one shot lead after the first day of the M2M Russian Open at Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club.
The Englishman, who won the last of his two European Tour titles in Morocco three years ago, birdied three of his last four holes and had seven gains in all to reach seven under par in glorious conditions in Moscow.
That was one ahead of playing partner Scott Jamieson and his fellow Scot Pete Whiteford, with no fewer than eight players lurking two shots off the lead.
Another of the Scottish contingent, Jack Doherty, was joined on five under par by India's Gaganjeet Bhullar, South Africans Oliver Bekker and Louis de Jager, Swede Rikard Karlberg, German Max Kieffer, Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Australian Jack Wilson.
The 29 year old Horsey was only two under at the turn, but picked up further shots at the tenth and 13th before his storming finish, which culminated with fine approaches to six feet at both the 17th and 18th - although he missed his putt at the latter.
“It was very solid,” said Horsey. “I birdied the first and then had a few shaky holes where I managed to scramble pars with eight to ten footers.
“After that it was flawless and probably could’ve been a few better.
“It was a bit breezier this afternoon, but I was just trying to concentrate on giving myself opportunities to make birdie.
“I’ve been working hard on my swing over the last nine or ten months and it’s been a bit inconsistent; the good stuff’s really good, but there are inconsistencies and a lack of confidence with it, which I guess comes with the territory when you try to change something.
“It’s starting to bed in and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable, so I’m looking forward to putting some consistent form together.”
Jamieson looked more likely to birdie the 17th than Horsey, but took three from the edge of the green – only to then reverse the roles at the last and close the gap to one.
“Everything was very solid today,” he said. “I hit a lot of fairways and greens so I had a lot of chances.
“I got out of position twice but I was able to recover. I hit two great shots into 17, the par five, but just went over the back of the green and didn’t make birdie there, so it was nice to finish with one on the last. That made it feel a bit better”
Compatriot Whiteford is the only one of the top three looking for a maiden victory, and was pleased to turn his form around after eight consecutive missed cuts.
“I’m delighted the fairways are wide here because I’ve been struggling off the tee lately, but I actually hit the driver quite nicely today,” he said. “I hit a few nice iron shots and took my chances.
“The way I’ve played this year, anything under par is good, so I’m delighted with six under.
“I wouldn’t say I’m flying with confidence but if I can keep grinding it out like that each day and get a bit better, I should do alright. I’m getting married in a week and a half so I need some pocket money to pay for it!”
Kieffer, who lost a record-equalling nine-hole sudden-death play-off to Raphael Jacquelin for last season's Open de España during an impressive rookie campaign, also finished strongly – the 24 year old firing four birdies during an inward 32.
“It’s a really fun course so I enjoyed the round a lot,” said Kieffer.
“It’s playing quite long because it’s soft, but that also means you can go at pins a bit more, and I had a lot of opportunities today.
“It’s not often you have rounds where you feel like every part of your game is working well, but that’s how it was today.
“There’s still a long way to go, but this is a good start. It’s not such a strong field so my expectations are higher than normal this week, but I’ve still got to play well and take it shot by shot.”
The 22 year old Qualifying School graduate Pieters had six birdies and a solitary bogey in his round and, like Kieffer, enjoyed the soft conditions.
“My driving was excellent today,” said Pieters, whose best result on The European Tour also came as a runner-up at the Open de España, where he was second to Miguel Angel Jimenez earlier this season.
“I’ve been struggling with it recently so I’ve been working hard with a new coach to change a couple of things.
“The course is great – the fairways are in excellent condition and the greens are rolling well.
“Every week is a chance to win and do well, but this is may be a better opportunity than most.”
Karlberg was the only one of the leading seven to sign for a blemish-free card – an eagle three at the 15th the highlight of the 27 year old's day.
“I made some good saves and then holed a great eagle putt on the 15th, so that helped me move up the leaderboard and give me some momentum for the last few holes,” said Karlberg.
“I birdied the 17th and I was unlucky not to birdie 18 as well - the putt just lipped out.”
Wilson is down at 169th on this season's Challenge Tour standings after an indifferent start to 2014, but hopes his luck may have changed after two slices of good fortune from the sand.
“The sand was very nice to me today – I holed out twice from a bunker and made a really good up-and-down at the last there,” said the Australian Tour winner.
“There’s a little bit of luck there. On the 14th I slam-dunked from the greenside trap, which you never expect. But I hit a lot of good shots out there and it was nice to get a couple of breaks as well.”
Bhullar, a winner in his homeland on The Challenge Tour in 2011 and a runner-up on Indian soil at last season's Avantha Masters, was pleased with his play from tee to green.
“I hit the ball really well today,” he said. “I hit 15 greens in regulation and gave myself a lot of opportunities. I hit the ball close, so I didn’t have to do much scrambling and the birdies were all from about ten to 12 feet.”