Jon Rahm upstaged tournament host Rory McIlroy as he fired a superb 65 to end the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open just one shot off the lead.
The exciting young Spaniard carded an eagle and six birdies at Portstewart to join English pair Matthew Southgate and Oli Fisher on seven under par, while McIlroy endured another frustrating round with the putter as he stuttered to a disappointing 72.
Benjamin Hebert reeled off four straight birdies late in the day as he returned a flawless eight-under 64 which earned him a share of the lead with Daniel Im, who made six birdies in seven holes in an outward 30 and also kept a bogey off his card.
Matt Fitzpatrick made a confident start with a 66, while former US Open champions Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell both fired 65s along with world No 2 Hideki Matsuyama, who was playing in the marquee group with defending champion McIlroy and Rahm.
Southgate made the most of the benign, early conditions and returned a seven-birdie card to share the clubhouse lead with fellow Englishman Fisher, who made seven birdies in eight holes mid-round but cost himself a share of the overnight lead with a bogey at the last.
Rahm offset a birdie at the first with his only bogey of the day at the third, a shot which he clawed back at the next and he picked up another at the sixth before two excellent strikes at the long seventh set him up for an eagle three.
The world No 11 then made three birdies in a row from the 13th and parred safely in to remain at seven under and one ahead of 2012 champion at Portrush, Jamie Donaldson, David Drysdale and Fitzpatrick.
Donaldson had nine birdies on his card but also a double-bogey seven at the 13th, while Fitzpatrick enjoyed three consecutive birdies on each nine in a confident start.
Rose got off to a hot start with a birdie at the 13th, his fourth, and then an eagle at the next while he also picked up shots on the first and parred in to stay at five under along with McDowell, who recovered from bogeys at 17 and 18 with four birdies on the front nine.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington is among a large group of players on four under which also includes Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter, who defied fatigue having managed to secure a place at The Open with a battling display in Monday’s 36-hole qualifier at Woburn.
The in-form Tommy Fleetwood, who snatched his second win of the season at last week’s Open de France, made a quiet start with a 70 and was one of 105 players who broke par on the opening day.
But McIlroy was not among them as he bogeyed both par threes on the outward nine before replying with birdies at each of the par-fives, and the remainder of his round involved scrambling pars and a host of missed birdie chances which leaves him in danger of missing the cut unless he can get a few more putts to drop on Friday.