Paul Casey powered his way to the top of the leaderboard following a first round 66 at the Porsche European Open.
The Englishman is playing in his first non-co-sanctioned event of the campaign at at Green Eagle Golf Courses and showed why he is World Number 17 with powerful driving and precise iron play on the third longest course of the European Tour season.
Casey was among the late starters - playing alongside 2018 Masters Tournament winner Patrick Reed and defending champion Richard McEvoy - with the clubhouse target set at four under par by star rookie Robert MacIntyre, Englishman Ben Stow and home favourite Max Rottluff.
Despite increased winds in the afternoon, the European Ryder Cup star made light of the testing conditions to lead the trio by two shots at the end of day one in Germany.
Austrian Matthias Schwab was Casey’s closest challenger, just one shot ahead of the front running trio at five under par.
Swede Alexander Björk was joined alongside Australia’s Lucas Herbert and Englishman Ben Evans at three under, while 2016 Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters led a group of four players one shot further adrift.
“It was a really good round of golf,” Casey said. “Yeah sure, there were a few putts that slid by but that is such a difficult golf course. I can’t explain how difficult that golf course is.
“I was happy with the patience I was showing and the quality of the ball-striking, and here I stand even happier because the score doesn’t do it justice as that is one of the finest rounds I’ve played this year.
“The score was great. I couldn’t have hoped for better. I’m happy to be under par, never mind six.”
The 42-year-old, who last won on the European Tour at the KLM Open in 2014, made a fast start with a birdie at the first but gave the shot back at the difficult sixth.
He was back in the red at the next courtesy of a 12 foot birdie putt and had an eagle chance at the 11th following a superb approach in the par five hole, but could only come away with a gain to get to two under.
Casey soon improved his score at the 13th after he dialled in to three feet for another birdie and when he rolled in his eight foot putt following a stunning tee shot at the par three 14th, he was co-leader.
A birdie putt slid by at the 15th but he did not let another opportunity slip at the next from 20 foot as he took the outright lead.
And he moved to six under with a gain at the last for a closing 33 as Casey held an 18 hole lead on the European Tour for the first time since the 2006 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Schwab also made a fast start on the back nine, birdieing the 13th before an eagle at the par five 15th moved the 24-year-old into contention on three under.
A poor tee shot at the par three 17th saw Schwab drop his first stroke of the round, but he picked it up immediately at the 18th following a chip to concessional range on the long par five.
Another gain at the first moved Schwab alongside Rottluff, Stow and MacIntyre before becoming just one of five players to birdie the difficult sixth to move into solo second.
“It was a very good round for me," the Austrian said. "It was tough conditions today. I managed to adjust well, I made some good shots and made some good putts - I’m happy with my score today. I’m happy with only one bogey on my scorecard.”
Stow bounced back from a opening double bogey to reach the turn at one under after a gain at the 11th before an eagle-birdie from the 15th. The Englishman picked up further shots first and fifth.
Rottluff mixed an eagle with five birdies and three bogeys in his 68, while MacIntyre almost holed out for an eagle at the ninth - his last - as he carded six gains and two dropped shots to join Stow and the Dusseldorf native.
Björk was blemish-free in his round of 69, birdieing the 11th, 18th and ninth after starting on the back nine, with both Herbert and Evans mixing five gains and two dropped shots for their three under par scores.
Pieters finished his round with three successive birdies to reach two under, alongside Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal, Norway’s Kristian Krogh Johannessen and Portugal’s Pedro Figueiredo.
World Number Nine Xander Schauffele finished on one over, with fellow Americans Matt Kuchar and Reed one shot further back.