Graeme McDowell returned to the scene of two great successes to start the defense of his Wales Open title with a four-under 67 at Celtic Manor in Newport on Thursday.
Last year, the course saw Northern Ireland’s McDowell, as well as winning the Wales Open, hole the winning putt that gave the European team a Ryder Cup victory over the US.
McDowell goes into the second round in a share for sixth place, three shots off pacesetter Keith Horne.
After his opening 64, the South African leads by one shot from McDowell’s Ryder Cup teammate Peter Hanson of Sweden with Steve Webster, Alvaro Velasco and Paul Broadhurst a further shot back in third.
Hanson had eight birdies to Horne’s seven, but there were also bogeys at the 13th and eighth on his card.
Horne, 289th in the world, did not turn professional until he was 25 and it was only last year that the Durban golfer, 40 next week, kept his European Tour card.
Ross Fisher and Miguel Angel Jimenez are the other two members of last year’s European Ryder Cup side taking part.
Fisher, who on June 12 needs to be back in the world’s top 50 from his current 52nd if he is to play in the US Open, had a even-par 71, but Jimenez managed only a 73.
The Spaniard was paired with Colin Montgomerie, but four days after his first top-10 finish for almost three years — seventh in the BMW PGA Championship — the 47-year-old Scot was twice in the water over the closing stretch and signed for a 77.
McDowell missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship in Wentworth, England, but returning to a happy hunting ground proved a tonic for the Ulsterman, who in two weeks defends his US Open title.
He holed an eagle at the 15th — the fifth hole of his round — before birdies at the sixth and the seventh.
It left McDowell in joint-third spot, behind early leader Keith Horne of South Africa, who shot a seven-under 64.
“Overall I’m very happy with the way I played,” McDowell said. “I went a little cold with the putter in the middle, but I’m really flighting the ball correctly and can see my way around the course.
“It’s definitely been a good hunting ground for me and I’m hoping to continue that. It’s good, it’s positive and I know I can go low here,” he added.