Justin Rose delighted the home crowds with an opening 65 that handed him a one-shot lead at the Betfred British Masters hosted by Sir Nick Faldo.
With big galleries gathered at the storied setting of The Belfry, the Englishman dropped just a single shot in getting to seven under to lead the way from fellow Briton Jamie Donaldson.
Amateur John Gough was then at four under alongside fellow Englishman James Morrison, Spaniard Sebastian Garcia, German Yannik Paul and Frenchman Adrien Saddier.
Rose won the second of his 11 DP World Tour titles – and so far only one in England – at this event in 2002 and since then has gone on to have a remarkable career including a Major Championship victory, two Rolex Series wins, two World Golf Championships triumphs, a Harry Vardon Trophy and a spell at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.
He has also played on three Ryder Cup-winning teams and could be on course for a return to the European fold after claiming a first win in four years on the PGA TOUR at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.
His last win on the DP World Tour came in 2018 when he claimed the second of back-to-back wins at the Turkish Airlines Open and the 42-year-old believes he is in a good position to take a 12th career victory.
“I think anybody who is playing in a rich vein of form has fairly simple thoughts and has good, strong feels and you kind of layer those feels week-to-week-to-week which obviously builds trust in your game,” he said. “I think I have a clear sort of blueprint with what I’m working on and can build momentum behind it.
“I felt very comfortable with my game from the first shot, really. Hit a beautiful little wedge into the tenth hole. Got off to a good start, nice birdie there, and I actually think that’s probably the best, cleanest round of golf I’ve played in a long, long time, probably even this year, as well as I have been playing.
“That one just felt a little smoother and I really drove the ball well. The fairways are incredibly narrow here and I felt confident with the driver and felt like the irons were being struck pretty cleanly and I haven’t had many putts, really, through the front nine to be four under par.
“Managed to actually make a few coming in, which is great, and obviously all amounted to a very good day’s work.”
Rose left himself a tap-in on the tenth and then put his tee-shot to seven feet on the par-three 12th before a pair of two-putt birdies on the par-five 15th and 17th saw him turn in 32.
Approaches to inside ten feet on the second and fifth were followed by a 31-foot putt on the sixth which opened up a three-shot lead but when Rose went over the back of the eighth for his only bogey of the day, he was in a share with the fast-finishing Donaldson.
The Welshman made a two-putt birdie on the par-five third and holed from 13 feet on the next but he found water on the sixth and was just one under after 12 holes.
A birdie from four feet on the 13th was followed by a par but the then got up and down from the sand on the 15th, put an approach to three feet on the next, birdied the 17th after laying up and then holed a 41-footer on the last for a four-birdie finish.
It looked like he would finish the day alongside Rose with the 2013 U.S. Open champion 24 feet away on the ninth but Rose made the putt to edge ahead.
“I was just trying to be patient,” said Donaldson. “You never know. The holes were a lot of downwind holes towards the end there, so it made it easier to have birdie chances and hit a few good shots.
“That was a nice one to hole on 18 from a distance. That green is so slopey, you’re just happy with two putts and a par but it was great to see it go in and finish well there.
“I’m only an hour and ten minutes from home, so it’s great to play on British soil. I love it. I’ve always enjoyed playing on British soil because it’s what you’re used to, isn’t it? It’s what you’ve grown up with and what you’re used to. Great coming here and playing here at The Belfry.”
Garcia had been one shot off the lead before he found water at the sixth to surrender a double-bogey that was his only blemish of the day.
Morrison was bogey-free, Gough made five birdies after bogeying the first, Paul – who rated his chances of playing at just 30 per cent on Tuesday due to injury – made six birdies and two bogeys, while Saddier had an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.
There was then a group of 11 players four shots off the lead.