Tommy Fleetwood continued his impressive form at the British Masters, but Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari found the going a little tougher at Walton Heath on Thursday.
After finishing in a share of second place at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week, Fleetwood fired an opening 67 to sit in a three-way tie for the lead.
The Englishman had just one bogey in his first round to share top spot with compatriots Eddie Pepperell – who cashed in for charity with a stunning hole-in-one – and Matt Wallace on five under.
Fleetwood’s only blemish came at the 17th after his wayward tee shot ended up in an empty cup holder of a course official’s buggy. He was unable to get up and down to save par despite receiving a free drop, though a birdie at the last quickly made amends.
“It wasn’t my finest approach shot to a par-three, but that was something different for sure,” he told Sky Sports about his drive at the 17th.
“Luckily it didn’t go in the beer [in the buggy] because it would have ruined a drink and the golf ball. But bogey there is fine. It’s not something you get too angry about around here today.”
Molinari failed to match Fleetwood’s standards as the Ryder Cup duo were reunited following their heroics for Europe at Le Golf National, the Italian finishing six shots off the pace after signing for a 73.
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Joint-leader Pepperell produced the moment of the day, sinking an astonishing ace as his tee shot at the par-three ninth struck the flag on the full before spinning back into the cup.
He followed up with a more conventional eagle at the par-five 11th and despite dropping shots at the 13th and 15th, a birdie at the penultimate hole capped an eventful day for the 27-year-old, who earned £20,000 for charity with his hole-in-one.
Richard McEvoy, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Joakim Lagergren, David Lipsky and Alexander Levy – still with a hole to play – sit on four under, while a 12-man group that includes Trevor Immelman and Robert Karlsson are a further shot back of the leading trio.
As for tournament host Justin Rose, the Englishman endured a run of four successive bogeys during a see-saw day that saw him eventually card a two-over 74.
“I had a good chance to make four birdies in a row but missed that and just gave away too many cheap bogeys,” Rose – who had to cancel his pre-tournament media commitments on Wednesday due to illness – told Sky Sports.