Tommy Fleetwood, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace shared the overnight lead at the Sky Sports British Masters to delight the home fans on a wild and windy day one at Walton Heath Golf Club.
The English trio have five wins between them this season and fired rounds of 67 to get to five under and lead the way from countryman Richard McEvoy, Swede Joakim Lagergren, American David Lipsky, France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera and another Frenchman in Alexander Levy, who will have to complete the last on Friday after play was suspended due to darkness.
Wallace has three of those wins and is playing in his 50th European Tour event this week, while Fleetwood is the reigning Race to Dubai champion and successfully defended his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA title at the start of the year.
Pepperell won his maiden crown at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in February and produced the highlight of the day on Thursday with his first European Tour hole-in-one.
Eight players had got to five under or better on a nip-and-tuck day in tough conditions but it was the home favourites who held their nerve to top a congested leaderboard.
Wallace eagled the 11th and a birdie from ten feet on the 15th got him within one of early leader Jordan Smith but a roller coaster was to follow.
He dropped a shot on the 16th but hit an excellent tee-shot into the par three next before three-putting the first. A brilliant second into the par five second with a driver set up a birdie and a 20-foot putt on the third put him into the solo lead at four under.
Another birdie on the sixth and a brilliant approach to the eighth meant he was two ahead but a dropped a shot on the ninth left him one ahead at the midway point.
“It's nice to get to 50 here and play the British Masters in my 50th,” he said. “It was a decent start. There was a few errors I made in there, a few short putts, and the bogey on the last wasn't nice, but we'll work on that this afternoon and hopefully go tomorrow again.”
Fleetwood made the most of the par five second - after a wonderful bunker shot - and sixth and then sent his drive on the seventh over 400 yards, getting up and down from over the back of the green for a third birdie.
He made it three out of three on the par fives after getting on the 11th green in two and a stunning approach to five feet from the rough on the 16th had him in a share.
His tee-shot on the par three 17th ended up in a greenside buggy and he dropped a shot after taking relief but hit back with an approach to eight feet and a closing birdie.
“Today was a great round of golf,” he said. “From a ball-striking perspective I hit it great. I hit the fairways but, especially with a lot of cross-winds going on, it's not easy to hit the fairways. I holed out very well, did a lot of good things.”
Pepperell started with six pars but birded the seventh and then hit one of the more remarkable holes-in-one you will ever see on the ninth.
His tee-shot pitched very close to the base of pin and then hit the pin itself, jumping right but spinning back where it came from off the surface of the green and falling into the hole for the 33rd ace of the season.
“It was obviously bizarre,” he said. “From where I was standing it looked like it pitched in the hole, jumped up, looked like it was going long because of the height it came out, and then from there just went in. Very nice.”
An approach to tap-in range on the tenth then had him within one and when he put an approach from just over 200 yards to five feet on the par five next, the lead was his.
Bogeys on the 13th and 15th dropped him back but an excellent approach to the last put him back in the leading pack.
“I was hanging in there for the first six or seven, they were playing really hard,” he said. “I felt like I did a good job, the putting was nice and then, all of a sudden three or four really good shots in a row.”
Lagergren made seven birdies in nine holes from the sixth to share the lead before dropping a shot on the 16th, while Levy made birdies on the second, sixth, eighth, 12th and 14th before recording his only blemish so far in the twilight on the 17th.
Lipsky and McEvoy both had six birdies and two bogeys, while Lorenzo-Vera carded an eagle, five birdies and three bogeys.
There were then 11 players in the clubhouse at three under including 2015 champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.