Thongchai Jaidee was the star of the show on day one of the Volvo Golf Champions after a superb seven-under 65 vaulted him into a healthy three-shot lead.
The former Thai paratrooper qualified for the 33-strong winners-only field in South Africa by capturing the Wales Open in wind and rain last June and again showed his prowess in the gusty conditions at Durban Country Club.
Jaidee raced to the turn in five-under 31 and had three more birdies on the back nine with just a lone bogey at 17.
The 43-year-old leads by three from the two pre-tournament favourites, Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els.
World number six Oosthuizen birdied the last for a 68 and Open champ Els followed him in to also post four-under.
Jaidee said: "I'm very happy with that. I enjoy the course. You have to think a lot - I hit the driver on only two holes and I put a three-iron in my bag only 15 minutes before we teed off."
Defending champion Branden Grace, who won this title at Fancourt 12 months ago, had a disappointing day, a three-over 75 leaving him in tied 25th and 10 shots off the lead.
Ryder Cup winner Paul Lawrie is in a seven-man group tied for fourth on three-under while Europe's two most recent captains, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, shot level par 72 and two over 74 respectively.
Hoey late collapse
Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey looked set to be Jaidee's nearest challenger after reaching four under with three to play.
But he blocked his drive at the 16th and then had another double-bogey on the 273-yard last after losing a ball in bushes.
Hoey came up with an unusual explanation for his bad finish.
"I felt so bloated," said the former British amateur champion, winner last March of the Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
"I drank so much yesterday (when it was much hotter) and did the same, but I lost so much concentration. It was weird - I couldn't swing it properly."