Frenchman Benjamin Hebert leads the Mugello Tuscany Open after an eagle at the 18th gave him an impressive six under par 65 and a two shot lead in the first round.
Taking advantage of the perfect early conditions at Poggio dei Medici Golf Club on the outskirts of Florence, Italy, the 24 year old holed a 20-foot putt for a three at the par five last to edge ahead of Spain’s Jordi Garcia, Swedes Björn Akesson and Birgir Hafthorsson and Englishmen Philip Golding, Benn Barham and Matt Evans, who all carded 67.
A group of eight players are another shot back at three under, including Italian Alessandro Tadini and Englishman Matt Ford, who is currently fourth in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Hebert, who won the European Amateur Championship four years ago, said: “The conditions were very good this morning, lovely and sunny and no wind at all. The greens were good and I was able to hole some good putts for birdies and a nice one for eagle at the 18th. It was a nice way to finish – I hit my second shot well and rolled the putt straight in.
“I didn’t start that well but then my game came to me and after that I played very well all the way round. The course is great, although it’s tough physically because it’s so up and down. But the fairways and greens are fantastic so I’m looking forward to the next three rounds.”
For Barham a 67 was another step towards regaining his top form after he spent the end of last year recuperating from surgery to remove a cancerous kidney.
“I trained hard over the winter working on my stamina but it is such long walk,” said the 35 year old. “I was feeling it a bit towards the end but I think everyone was, and on the whole I’m feeling very good.
“I putted nicely and plotted my way round the course so I’m pleased to be where I am on the leaderboad.”
Garcia had a fine finish, picking up a shots at the 14th and 18th in addition to a three-hole birdie run from the second, and is pleased some hard work during the off-season is starting to bear fruit.
He said: “I’ve been practising hard the last three or four months and it’s paying off now as I’m playing well. Last week I was at the Open de España and finished 41st, which should have been a lot better but I shot seven over par in the third round. But apart from that I played very well and was very happy.
“Four under on this course is very difficult. It’s long and narrow, but I’ll just try to do my best again tomorrow.”
Golding holed his second shot at the first from 104 yards and was pleased to take a 67 from a testing day.
“It was a long round – nearly six hours,” he said. “And I spent the whole day sneezing and trying to fix the wheel on my trolley. But I played nicely and holed some good putts. I’ve changed my putter and my grip and it seems to be working.”
Akesson said: “I played solidly, only missed a few times and scrambled well when I did. I had one three-putt, on the back nine, and I hit one wedge in the water, but apart from that it was pretty good.”
Young Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, a Walker Cup player in 2009, had a hole-in-one at the seventh, a 224-yard par three.
He said: “I wasn’t having a good day so I just wanted to get it on the green. I hit it well but you can’t see the green from the tee so I had no idea it had gone in. We walked onto the green and when I couldn’t see it I was getting really angry, but then one of the other players spotted it in the hole.”
Laurie Canter, the 21 year old from Bristol making his Challenge Tour debut having turned professional two days ago, signed for a one under par 70.