Ross McGowan (Getty Images)
England's Ross McGowan, fighting for his European Tour future, began the Castelló Masters with a seven under par 64 in Spain.
A year after his bid for a Ryder Cup debut was scuppered by a wrist injury, the 29 year old is only 163rd on The Race to Dubai and has dropped from 63rd in the Official World Golf Ranking to 543rd.
But, needing things to go his way, he sank his four iron approach to the 503 yard 17th for an eagle two and also had five birdies in a flawless display.
McGowan will not be taking anything for granted, however. A fortnight ago he started the Bankia Madrid Masters with another 64 and led there as well, only to fall all the way back to 42nd.
Without a single top 15 finish all season he said: "It's nice to be playing well again and up in contention.
"I'm not really thinking about The Race to Dubai at the moment. I'm just trying to play each shot at a time and put up a good result at the end of the week."
“I learned a little bit in Madrid, it’s nice to be playing well again. I enjoy playing in Spain, the weather is good and it’s not too humid.
“My injury is getting better - I’m not taking on a lot with the driver, I hit a lot of irons and this golf course suits it. Irons make you more accurate.
“It’s nice to shoot 64. It looks like my game is getting better. I’m looking forward for tomorrow morning.”
On the eagle he added: "I wasn't sure it had gone in. I heard one clap, got up there and found it in the hole."
McGowan is two in front of compatriot Richard McEvoy and Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti, and three clear of a group which includes Sergio Garcia on his home course and Northern Irishman Michael Hoey on his first appearance since winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title.
Hoey was six under with three to play, then followed a bogey on the short 16th with a double bogey before holing from off the green for birdie at the last.
Garcia, without a victory for almost three years but much more like his old self this season, was down on one over after ten holes, but birdied five of the next eight.
In contrast, 18 year old defending champion Matteo Manassero had to settle for a 69 after kicking off with four successive birdies, while 20 year old Tom Lewis, winner of the Portugal Masters in only his third professional start on Sunday, shot 71.
The English youngster, paired with Garcia and Manassero, was suffering from a virus and turned in a disappointing three over, then had four birdies in a row, but closed with another bogey.
Colin Montgomerie kept a bogey off his card like McGowan, but only one birdie meant a 70, while playing partner John Daly finished with back-to-back double bogeys for a 73.