Wentworth - Australian Scott Hend, South Korea's YE Yang, the 2009 US PGA winner, and Joost Luiten of the Netherlands were in a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the European PGA Championship at Wentworth on Thursday.
The trio shot seven-under par rounds of 65 but Masters champion Danny Willett, on his first appearance in England since his Augusta triumph, was on their tail only one shot back after a 66.
Also in the mix were Jaco van Zyl from South Africa, another Englishman in Robert Rock and Australian Richard Green, who all fired 67s.
Two-time winner Luke Donald was a shot further back, trying to rekindle his form on one of his favourite courses, level with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Hend missed the cut here 12 months ago but the big-hitter learnt from his experience to collect eight birdies, against just one bogey, to put himself in position to follow up his win in Thailand earlier this season.
"I tried to be aggressive last year and it really doesn't work," he said. "So I thought I'd just be a little bit cautious and a bit more aggressive into the greens. We'll see how that plays out during the week. There's a long three more days to go.
"I'm comfortable wherever I'm playing, whether I'm running last or whether I'm running first. Just one foot in front of the other and keep going."
Willett did not have a bogey in front of his home crowd, who packed the fairways to follow England's latest major winner, but he did not have it all his own way.
The 28-year-old said: "Stats-wise, I probably didn't hit loads of fairways but were never in too much trouble. I hit some great mid-to-short irons, rolled a few putts in -- obviously we were never in any danger there.
"To have to be announced as the Masters champion, sounds pretty good. To be in front of the English guys at home is brilliant, and the reception on the first tee was too."
Former world number one Donald won this tournament in 2011 and 2012, when he was challenging the best in the world, with his first win in a thrilling duel with compatriot Lee Westwood getting him to the top of the tree for the first time.
He has slumped to 76th and is in danger of missing out on a spot in the European Ryder Cup team for the second time in a row, but a good display at Wentworth could rocket him into the top 50 and contention for the matches against the United States and a fifth appearance for his continent at Hazeltine.
"The last two years have been tough and I have struggled to gain confidence but I have felt more comfortable the last couple of months, Donald said.
"If you look at history here, playing well in the first round means good things for the rest of the tournament."
Defending champion Byeong-Hun An of South Korea had a run of four birdies from the fourth to top the leaderboard, but he dropped four shots in seven holes from the 10th to slip back to level par, where he finished.
Another Korean, Jin Jeong, had a nightmare start to his week when he triple-bogeyed the par-four first, followed up with a double-bogey six at the third, before further dropped shots left him at 15-over par.