David Lynn, the former Staffordshire Amateur champion, may have warmed up for the defence of his maiden European Tour title next week by taking a share of the lead in the Wales Open yesterday but his efforts paled alongside those of James Heath.
Lynn, from Stoke-on-Trent, was one of six players to card a first-round six-under-par 63 to finish alongside Heath, Gary Emerson, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, Australia's Peter Senior and Frenchman Benoit Teilleria at Celtic Manor.
Heath only turned professional last November, but made the most of Nick Faldo's "pulling power" to claim a share of the lead.
His 63 was nine shots better than mentor Faldo, while Colin Montgomerie, hoping to finally put the controversy over his incorrect drop in the Indonesian Open behind him, bogeyed the last to finish two-over.
Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam delighted the home crowds with a 64 to lie fiveunder alongside left-hander Stuart Little, while another Faldo proteg>, Nick Dougherty, was among those on four-under.
Heath is relying on invites to tournaments on the main and Challenge Tour, but fortunately belongs to the management company run by a certain six- time major winner.
"He's got quite a lot of pull so I'm glad he's got my back," said the 22-year-old from Surrey.
"I normally play a practice round with him but I didn't this week because I think he was doing promotional things which helped me get the invite.
"I actually spoke to him last week because I've had a bit of a frustrating year. It's nice to know you can call him about any part of your game at any time. He's a cool guy.
"My one and only goal is to get a European Tour card for
2006. I don't know what my life has got planned for me but I can only work hard. I believe the harder you work the luckier you get."
Montgomerie said he was physically and emotionally drained by his tough schedule and what has been dubbed "Jakartagate", and added: "I just didn't play very well.
"Three-over after six is no good and then to have a sand wedge into the last and make five is something I do once a year.
"It's possibly one tournament too many but I was committed to play here. I've left myself a lot to do but hopefully I will get going tomorrow and it's nice to be talking about my golf." Lynn and Little were among the first players out yesterday morning and Lynn set the early target with birdies at all five of the Roman Road course's par threes.
" We don't play many courses with five par-threes and I can't even remember making four twos before so that must be unique," said Lynn, who will defend his KLM Open title in Holland next week.
"The good news is I paid my £2 to join the two's competition this morning!"
Lynn is playing only his ninth event of the year after deciding to skip the long-haul events at the start of the season and admitted: "I've not hit form at all yet.
"I feel I've only played well for two rounds this year, the first two rounds in Italy, and then over the weekend it just disappeared.
"I'm just trying to be patient and wait until the game kicks in. I didn't get off to the best start today, bogeying my first hole, but then I just started ripping it."
Little has made ten visits to the qualifying school, including successfully regaining his card there last November. But he is well on his way to avoiding another visit this season, thanks to a sixth place in last month's BMW Asian Open after originally travelling to Shanghai as first reserve.
Midlanders wererswere well-placed after the first round with Atherstone's Steve Webster leading the way with a 68. Webster picked up four birdies - three in the final five holes - and three bogeys.
Tettenhall's Peter Baker had three birdies and three bogeys in his 69, and Droitwich Spa golfer John Bickerton enjoyed a return to form, recovering from dropped shots at the fifth and sixth to pick up shots at 15and 18 to end level-par.
Paul Broadhurst endured a roller-coaster ride in his oneover 70, suffering two double bogeys and picking up three birdies, while Hill Valley's Jonathan Lomas also finished one-over.