First round leaderboard:
-6 R Finch (Eng) -5 D Lynn (Eng), R Rock (Eng), R Bland (Eng), S Gallacher (Sco), G Boyd (Eng) Selected others: -4 S Dyson (Eng), F Molinari (Ita), P McGinley (Ire), N Dougherty (Eng) -3 P Hanson (Swe) -2 E Molinari (Ita), M A Jimenez (Spn) -1 C Montgomerie (Sco) level A Quiros (Spn), R Fisher (Eng), P Price (Wal) +1 D Howell (Eng)
Molinari will be exhibiting his Italian flair at Celtic Manor in October
Italian Francesco Molinari has clinched a place in Europe's Ryder Cup team after an injury forced Ross McGowan to quit the Johnnie Walker Championship.
McGowan, 28, needed a top-two finish at Gleneagles to have a chance of an automatic spot in Europe's line-up.
But his withdrawal means Molinari, seventh in the Cup rankings, cannot be overhauled in the race for the nine automatic qualifying places.
Richard Finch fired a six-under-par 66 to lead the Gleneagles event by a shot.
Englishman Finch sank six birdies during his bogey-free day to lead a five-strong chasing pack comprising of English quartet David Lynn, Robert Rock, Richard Bland and Gary Boyd, and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher.
However, the real focus of the day was on those players still trying to secure their place in Europe captain Colin Montgomerie's team to take on the United States at Celtic Manor from 1-3 October.
Molinari, 27, joins Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Ross Fisher on Montgomerie's team-sheet, leaving England's Simon Dyson and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros as the only two players who can force their way into the automatic spots.
Yorkshireman Dyson, 32, was making a good fist of it with an opening round 68.
Dyson needs to win to qualify automatically for Europe's team
The Englishman needs to win the tournament to stand any chance of making the team, but two dropped shots in the last three holes cost him a share of the lead, leaving him tied for seventh.
"It's amazing what your attitude can be like when you know that you have to win," reflected a psyched-up Dyson.
"Too often players, including myself, walk into a tournament and think 'we'll give it a go, but there's always next week.' This week there isn't next week."
Dyson's fervour was not going unnoticed by Scot Montgomerie, who went around in 71 on Thursday.
"He's a passionate challenge - up for the challenge and a very bright and sparkly character," Montgomerie said.
"To have to come here and win and to start like that is a fantastic effort, so all credit to him."
Quiros, who also needs to be top of the leaderboard come Sunday to secure an automatic spot, was not faring so well, carding six bogeys during his opening round 72 to leave him six off the pace.
Czech Open winner Peter Hanson, currently in eighth place in the Ryder Cup table, shot an opening 69, while Miguel Angel Jimenez, who occupies the final berth, was sitting comfortably in the middle of the pack after a 70.
Jimenez had initially decided to skip the Johnnie Walker to attend a nephew's wedding, however the 46-year-old changed his mind with his Celtic Manor dream under threat.
McGowan, meanwhile, who came to Gleneagles lying 12th in the table, was left to consider what might have been.
The Englishman decided to withdraw after suffering a trapped nerve in his following an opening round of 77 that included eight bogeys.
"I'm pretty gutted, as I'm not one who likes to pull out of events, but we've pretty much tried everything other than injections," McGowan said afterwards.
"Hopefully, there will be other opportunities to play in the Ryder Cup."
The elder of the Molinari brothers, Edoardo, is just out of the reckoning for the top nine, but could still gain one of Montgomerie's three wildcard picks, which will be chosen on Sunday.
A solid round of 70 left 29-year-old Edoardo four off the lead as he bids to join his sibling and jointly become the first Italians to play in the Ryder Cup since Costantino Rocca in 1995.
Edoardo's wildcard rivals Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Justin Rose - unlike the Italian World Cup winner, all veterans of previous Ryder Cup teams - have elected to miss the Johnnie Walker in favour of
The Barclays in New Jersey - the first round of the FedEx Cup play-offs on the PGA Tour.
One player not competing on either Tour this week is Europe's leading qualifier Lee Westwood.
Out for two weeks already with a torn calf muscle, the Worksop golfer may not play competitively until the Ryder match.
"We are entitled to substitute a player right up until Thursday night [the opening session is on Friday]," said Montgomerie.
"If he doesn't make it - and I am 99% certain he will - then it goes down the list he qualified from."