American Luke Guthrie left Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy trailing in his wake with a blistering start to the BMW Masters in Shanghai, firing a seven-under 65 to sit three shots clear of compatriot John Daly.
The 23-year-old, who turned professional last year, had only 19 putts in his bogey-free round which was boosted by an eagle at the par-five 15th when he holed a flop shot from the bank by the green after chipping in for birdie on the previous hole.
Guthrie, playing on the European Tour for the first time, was one of just 13 players to shoot under par as blustering winds made scoring tough at the Lake Malaren golf course.
Another American, Peter Uihlein, shot a 69 to sit in third, one ahead of a cast of more familiar European Tour names at two-under including former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.
The Portrush man, back after a five-week absence, enjoyed an eventful round, easily holing the longest put of the day when he sank a near 100 foot effort for eagle on the par five 13th.
"The eagle was nice, it was just one of those, bit of a bonus really. The putt was a good putt but it was very fortunate to go in and it was probably going to be six to eight feet by," the world number 12 said.
McDowell was joined at two-under by Englishman Paul Casey and Simon Dyson, Scot Craig Lee, Spain's Pablo Larrazabal, Gregory Bourday of France and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.
Former world number one Rory McIlroy was a further shot back after a four-birdie round of 71 left him in contention as he seeks his first tournament win of a turbulent year.
The Irish pair were playing with Race to Dubai money list leader Henrik Stenson, who shot a level par 72 to sit in a group tied for 14th alongside treble major champion Padraig Harrington and former world number one Lee Westwood.
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry are well off the pace after posting opening round scores of five and six over respectively.
Daly made the most of his first tournament appearance since July's Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour and sits in second place.
The 47-year-old, a former Open and USPGA Champion now ranked 447 in the world and relying on sponsors invitations to compete, fired a bogey-free round of 68 to sit alone in second at the high-calibre field event.
"After not playing a competitive round in about 14, 15 weeks, it felt pretty good," said Daly, who has been recovering from elbow surgery.
"I just stayed calm and when you haven't played in a while, you want to execute and hit solid shots."
The two other former top ranked players in the field, Germany's Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald of England, struggled on Thursday and finished with rounds of 75 to sit well down the field in a tie for 41st.