Frenchman Sebastien Gros coped best with testing windy conditions to take the lead after the first day of the BMW International Open.
With more than three quarters of the field over par at Golf Club Gut Laerchenhof in Pulheim, near Cologne - and no player bogey-free - the 28-year-old's one dropped shot at the short 16th was impressive and he reached the clubhouse on four under.
Gros was four under for his outward nine and added a fifth birdie at the par-five 15th, slipped up at the next and missed a 10-foot birdie chance at his penultimate hole.
It left him ahead of a group including European Tour rookie pair Aaron Rai and Henrik Sturehed, Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Spaniard Jorge Campillo, who bogeyed his last hole - the ninth - to drop out of a share of the lead.
Dubliner Paul McBride is the sole Irishman in action, he will need to improve tomorrow to make the cut after a four-over 76.
"It was quite brutal with the wind and it was tough to get the ball on the fairway," Gros told Sky Sports.
"I was four under after nine but there was still 63 holes to play. I was just thinking about trying to make the best round I could.
"I'm just one putting week from something very good."
World number 10 Tommy Fleetwood had a difficult return to action after finishing as the runner-up at the US Open on Sunday, posting a 74 after slipping from two under through five holes.
The Southport golfer, whose father Pete reprised the role as his son's caddie in the absence of regular bagman Ian Finnis after the birth of his son this week, dropped five shots in as many holes - including a double-bogey seven.
He holed a 25-foot birdie putt at the 11th to get back to two over but sliced his drive into the thick rough for bogey at the next and, although he pulled one back at the 519-yard 13th, he could not improve on his two-over score.
Ernie Els, whose last win came in this tournament in 2013, birdied the last to post a 71.