Richie Ramsay built on a blistering start to the Omega European Masters to lead in the first round but was caught late on by Edoardo Molinari at the stunning Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
Ramsay, twice a winner on the European Tour including the 2012 Omega European Masters, eagled the first and birdied the next two holes to get going.
The Scot, 75th on The Race to Dubai, then made gains on the seventh, 12th, 13th and 15th in a blemishless round of 62 to sit eight under par.
However Italy’s Molinari, also with two European Tour wins to his name, likewise enjoyed a flawless round, picking up eight gains to match Ramsay’s score.
Ramsay said: “Four under through three holes was a nice way to start. I hit a great six iron into the first and then two more good iron shots into the next two, so I was flying at that point. It gave me a great boost and I managed to pick off a few more birdies after that.”
Asked if a round of 59 crossed his mind, Ramsay replied: “On the 16th, I thought that if I could make my birdie putt I’d have a good chance, because the last two holes are decent chances for birdie. But once I missed the putt, I obviously knew the game was up.”
Molinari, who missed this tournament for the last two years through injury and is now 30th in The Race to Dubai, said: “I hit the ball very well from the tee, which wasn’t the case last week. And I’ve been hitting my irons very well lately, so I know that when I find the fairways, I’m probably going to give myself a good chance to get close to the pin.”
Asked which was his best birdie, Molinaro explained: “The one on the fourth hole, for sure. It’s a very tough par four, so to birdie it was very pleasing and almost felt like I’d made two shots on the field. I hit a great iron to 15 feet and made the putt, so that definitely stands out in my mind.”
Ramsay and Molinari were two shots ahead of Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Graeme Storm plus Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin, who all made 64s in the first half of the day.
Wales’ Jamie Donaldson, seeking consecutive European Tour triumphs, went round in 65 to be in a group of seven on five under.
Defending champion Thomas Björn of Denmark was among a large group one shot further back.
Björn predicted that the afternoon players would set the bar higher than the morning ones, a prophecy that only Ramsay and Molinari fulfilled.
Björn said: “It was ideal this morning, although it was a bit cold early on. Usually that would mean the ball doesn’t go as far, but with the altitude that cancelled one another out.
“There was hardly any wind out there today, so the course was definitely there for the taking. I won’t be anywhere near the top of the leaderboard by the end of the day, but it’s still a reasonable enough start.”
Northern Ireland’s Maybin dropped his only shot of the round at the par-three eighth before making his seventh birdie for a six-under 64.
Competing for his European Tour card next season, Maybin, 124th in The Race to Dubai, said: “I played really solid golf all day – as well as I’ve played in a very long time.
“I posted some decent scores in recent weeks without playing all that well, but today was a different story. I hit the ball very well and got my just rewards, so I’m, happy.”
Fleetwood, whose sole European Tour victory came in the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, eagled the first but double bogeyed the fourth while otherwise carding seven birdies and a bogey.
He said: “It’s obviously never nice to start with a three-putt, then I holed a good par putt on the 11th, so I could’ve been two over after two.
“But the birdie on 15 got me going, and from there on in I played really well and felt good about my game.
“I shot five under on my back nine, which is the front nine, and didn’t really have to hole any putts of note.
“When you’re playing that well you just want to make the most of it, and luckily I managed to do that today.”
Donaldson, who won the D+D REAL Czech Masters in his previous appearance before enjoying last week off, had an eagle at the 15th as the highlight of his round.
He said: “It’s a tough flag on the back right, and I actually pulled my second shot slightly. But if you’re going to miss, you have to miss on the left side.
“So it was a good miss if you like, and I left myself with a fairly straightforward chip which I managed to hole, so that was a bit of a bonus.”