FIRST ROUND LEADERBOARD: GB & Ire unless stated
-6 R Finch, J-F Lucquin (Fra) -5 R Karlsson (Swe)
-4 R Fisher Selected others: -2 B Langer (Ger) Level MA Jimenez (Spa), G McDowell +1 J Daly (US) +1 P McGinley +3 F Couples (US)
Karlsson qualified automatically for the European Ryder Cup team
Sweden's Robert Karlsson proved he is in form ahead of the Ryder Cup after he hit a 67 to sit one shot off the lead in the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
The European team-member sits behind England's Richard Finch and France's Jean-Francois Lucquin, who head the field on six under par in Cologne.
England's Ross Fisher is two off the lead on four under, while other members of Nick Faldo's team are also in touch.
Graeme McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez both carded level-par 72s.
Karlsson's round included seven birdies and two bogeys - easily the best display from the four European Ryder Cup team members on show.
Spain's Jimenez had six birdies but four bogeys and a double bogey in a 72 matched by Ryder Cup rookie McDowell, while Denmark's Soren Hansen, the defending champion, returned a 73.
Karlsson, who made his Cup debut in the record-equalling victory at the K Club in 2006, had been reported to be suffering from a neck injury after taking three weeks off.
But the 6ft 5in Swede reiterated that those reports had been wide of the mark after instantly returning to the sort of form which has brought him nine top-10 finishes this season.
"I just took an extra week off after playing a lot of golf in the summer," he said.
"I never had any injury and had no treatment. I just enjoyed three weeks with my family, although the kids having chicken pox meant I did not have much time for practice last week.
"It would be nice to win but mainly I am here to get going again after three weeks off.
"I'm usually quite good at getting back quickly and I'm very happy to have another three days to play (there is no cut this week) after not playing for so long."
Finch has failed to match Karlsson's consistency this season but has claimed two tournament victories after narrowly keeping his card at the end of last season.
The 31-year-old from Hull only secured his playing rights by finishing seventh in the final event of 2007.
But he won the New Zealand Open in December and then added the Irish Open in May - despite memorably falling into a river while playing his third shot on the 72nd hole.
"Even this morning I was looking at the scores from the first stage of the Qualifying School because I've got a few friends in that, and I did think it might have been me this time last year," Finch admitted after a round of eight birdies and two bogeys.
"To be here instead and shoot a good score and be in with a chance is great.
"I try not to think about it but all of a sudden there are more demands on your time, different tournaments to play in and your goals change.
"I've enjoyed it but as soon as you think golf is a great game and you've cracked it you start playing like an idiot.
"I want to finish as high as I can up the Order of Merit to qualify for the majors next year, improve my world ranking and get into the top 100 (he is currently 146th).
"If you play well it all snowballs from there."