Robert Rock, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne made the most of the conditions at Gardagolf Country Club to share the lead after the first round of the Italian Open.
The stunning layout on the shores of Lake Garda had seen heavy rain in the days leading up to the second Rolex Series event of the season, and the softened course opened the door for low scoring.
Canter and Rock capitalised with rounds of 63 to set the target at eight under and after an hour and 19 minutes was lost in the afternoon due to storms in the area, it looked like none of the afternoon starters could catch them.
Enter six-time European Tour winner Sterne, who carded a total of ten birdies - including three to finish - to make it a three-way tie at the top.
There was then a group of eight players with 22 European Tour wins between them at six under, made up of Englishmen Ross Fisher, Charlie Ford, Matt Wallace and Danny Willett, Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, Dane Thorbjørn Olesen, Belgian Thomas Pieters and South African Erik van Rooyen.
Canter is looking for his first European Tour title after coming through the Qualifying School the last three seasons, while Rock is seeking win number three at the event where he claimed his maiden victory seven years ago.
"It was all pretty solid," said Canter. "My iron play was nice. Obviously the greens are receptive so you can go at a few pins, even with your longer irons they are going to stop fast.
"So I hit some really nice iron shots. I think I played the par fives well as you'd hope to. They are really good scoring opportunities. Then just solid for the rest of it, really, through the bag. I was really pleased."
Rock recovered from a bogey on the second with birdies on the fourth and sixth, an eagle on the seventh and a hat-trick of gains from the ninth.
Canter also eagled the seventh after birdies on the first, fifth and sixth, and when he made another gain on the tenth, he too was six under.
The 28 year old birdied the 13th to hit the front on his own and Rock almost chipped in on the 15th to get back into a share of the lead. An approach to tap-in range on the 16th nudged Rock ahead but Canter birdied the same hole and they were the men to catch.
"The course is soft and fairways are playing a bit wider because it's just landing and stopping," said Rock. "And on the greens you have to hole some putts. I holed some nice, solid birdie putts and holed a couple of bonus ones as well so that was pretty cool.
"You remember your first win more than anything and for me, it took so long to get the first win, so it's special.
It was probably one of the best putting days I've had in many a year, so it was nice - Richard Sterne
"But you also see the same people when you come back to a tournament and your name's on the trophy and the boards. As I've only won two, I don't get to experience that very much. It's always good to see, just a reminder that you have done something good somewhere down the line."
South African Sterne got off to a fast start, birdieing the 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th before dropping a shot on the 17th. A hat-trick of birdies followed from the second and after a bogey on the fifth, he reeled off three more gains from the seventh.
"It was lovely," he said. "The course is playing nice, giving a lot of opportunities, so you've got to take them. I saw a lot of guys shoot quite low this morning. It was probably one of the best putting days I've had in many a year, so it was nice.
"I haven't done well in any of the Rolex Series, to be honest. It would be nice to put in a couple of solid rounds. It's a long way to go, only day one. Hopefully I'll put some solid rounds together."
Willett - the 2016 Masters Tournament champion - was bogey-free in his round, as were countrymen Ford and Wallace.
Fisher holed his second from 104 yards at the ninth for a closing eagle, with Olesen picking up two shots at the 15th and Van Rooyen making an eagle on the seventh.
Ryder Cup stars Cabrera Bello and Pieters both made eight birdies and two bogeys in their rounds.
Home hero and two-time champion Francesco Molinari was then in group at five under as he goes for back-to-back Rolex Series victories, alongside the likes of countryman Matteo Manassero, Major champion Graeme McDowell and former World Number One Lee Westwood.
|4||CABRERA BELLO, Rafa||ESP||18||-18|