Simon Thornton came into the Italian Federation Cup in need of a big performance and duly got off to the perfect start with a round of 65 to grab the lead on the opening day of the €150,000 event.
But Challenge Tour rookie Thornton, currently 64th in the rankings, showed few signs of nerves with a seven under par round which featured an eagle at the 15th.
Thornton currently leads by one stroke from Wales’ Rhys Davies, who carded seven birdies in his round of 66, and rankings leader Edoardo Molinari of Italy, who joined Davies in a share of second place late in the day.
With his best previous result is tied fourth at the Telenet Trophy, Huddersfield born Thornton said: “I missed a birdie putt from two feet on the last hole, so my day could’ve been even better. But I’ve still got to be very happy with a 65 – I would have snapped your arm off if you’d offered me that at the start of the week.
"I putted really well, and sunk a couple from 25 feet, which is always a bit of a bonus. I managed to pick up the pace of the greens very early, which is important because they’re very quick this week.
“I also drove the ball very well, which you need to round here, with trees lining a few of the fairways. Until recently my driving had been my strong point, but over the last few weeks I’ve been spraying it everywhere.
"But I sorted it out on the driving range in Toulouse, and I drove the ball really well on the last two days. I didn’t necessarily score any better, but it gave me a lot of confidence to take into this week.
“I’m trying not to think about it as a big week – they’re all big weeks really. I just came into the event with the aim of giving it a right good, which is what I’ve done all year.
"A top three finish will definitely get me into the Grand Final, and even top five should be good enough. Obviously that’s in the back of my mind, because there’s no point just turning up and hoping for the best. So it certainly focuses your mind. If I can play as well over the next three days as I did today, I shouldn’t have too much to worry about.”
Colm Moriarty, 55th in the rankings, and 115th ranked Jonny Caldwell, hit three under 69s to share 11th place.
Michael McGeady, who is 175th in the rankings, hit a one under par 71 to share 41st.