Tyrrell Hatton produced a big finish to join George Coetzee in a share of the lead after day one of the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
Coetzee posted an excellent seven under par 63 to set the target in front of bumper crowds at Close House Golf Club and looked set to take the solo lead into round two as the shadows began to lengthen in the north east.
Hatton had other ideas, however, and birdied five of his last seven holes to ensure that the South African would have to make do with a share of the first-round lead for the second week in a row on the European Tour.
Coetzee took a long break after the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open to work on both his game and his fitness and has been in sparkling form the last few weeks.
He missed the cut at the Omega European Masters but finished in a tie for third at the KLM Open and only a closing triple-bogey denied him a share of second at the Portugal Masters last week as he secured a seventh top ten of the season.
‘I’ve continued my good form’ – George Coetzee
England’s Chris Hanson, Finnish duo Mikko Ilonen and Mikko Korhonen and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros had set the target at six under from the morning groups but Coetzee quickly set about reining them in, holing a 50-footer on the first, birdieing the second and putting a two iron to tap-in range for an eagle on the sixth to turn in 31.
He birdied the tenth and 14th and when he rolled in an 18-foot right-to-lefter on the 15th, the lead was his alone. A three-put from the fringe on the 16th saw him record a first bogey of the day but he hit back on the short par four 17th, flicking a wedge to six feet and getting back to seven under.
“I’m happy with the score,” he said. “A couple of niggles actually while I was playing that weren’t that good but I had the opportunities when they came and we were able to post a pretty good number.”
Hatton – who will defend his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title next week – had made just three of his last ten cuts but finished tied for third in Crans Montana and carried that form onto home turf.
The Englishman birdied the fourth, eighth and tenth but when he bogeyed the 11th he still looked unlikely to bother the upper echelons of the leaderboard. Further gains on the 12th, 13th, 15th and 17th moved him to within one of the lead and he put his tee-shot on the par three last to 12 feet to seal an eighth birdie of the day.
Tyrrell Hatton – “I hit a lot of good iron shots today”
“It was a really good day,” he said. “I played lovely out there and gave myself plenty of chances, managed to convert a few at the end.
“Hopefully I can keep the form going with my swing and post another good number.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots today and it’s nice to feel comfortable in my swing again. Obviously I had a really bad summer, which is frustrating, but you’re going to go through these phases. Golf’s hard and I’m happy with where I’m at now.”
Hanson, Ilonen, Korhonen and Quiros had signed for rounds of 64 in the morning wave and were joined by Swede Rikard Karlberg later in the day.
Quiros was the only player outside of the leaders to get to seven under on Thursday but he bogeyed the last, while Hanson turned in 30 but could only pick up one shot on the back nine.
Ilonen was bogey-free in his round, with Korhonen making a single bogey and Karlberg dropping two shots.
Swede Johan Carlsson, English trio Ashley Chesters, Lee Slattery and Graeme Storm and Frenchman Joël Stalter were then at five under.
Matthew Fitzpatrick – the 2015 champion – was three off the lead in a group including tournament host Lee Westwood, fellow former World Number One Martin Kaymer and Ryder Cup winners Graeme McDowell, Robert Karlsson and Ian Poulter.
World Number Six Rory McIlroy was then in the group at three under.