He made a nervous start with a shoddy double bogey six at the first but Shane Lowry dug deep to birdie two of his last four holes and open with a level par 72 in the $6.5m Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
The world No 47 ended the day tied for 15th in the 30-man field at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, six shots behind the man he beat to win his most recent title, stablemate Ross Fisher.
Fisher picked up where he left off in South Africa in March at the the Tshwane Open in Pretoria , carding a six under par 66 in the first event of The 2015 Race to Dubai.
On a scorching day at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South African George Coetzee signed for a 68 to share second place alongside Frenchman Alexander Levy and Germany’s Marcel Siem, who holed his second shot from 184 yards for eagle on the 17th to win a car.
Three other home favourites, Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, opened with rounds of 70 to lie joint fifth, along with American Brooks Koepka, Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez, who hit the first tee shot of the new season.
“I’m delighted to be back," Fisher said. "Having played here in 2009 and 2010, it's definitely one of the tournaments on I think everybody's mind after the Majors and WGCs.
"I’m feeding off good memories of the last two times I've been here and the victory at Tshwane. I felt like I drove it really well. I didn't miss many fairways.
"You can't really be too aggressive on this course, but my style of golf is to hit driver a lot because I hit it quite long and I do generally hit it pretty straight.
"I hit one loose shot on the 16th and made bogey, but you can’t be too disappointed with one bad shot in 18 holes.”
Lowry exhaled deeply on the first tee in his first event as a member of the world's top 50 and tugged his driver in the rough.
He came up short of the green in two but took four to get down, lipping out for bogey.
He then failed to birdie the par-five second, falling four shots behind playing partner Clark but birdied the short fourth.
Struggling to hit fairways, he bogeyed the sixth and eighth but revived his hopes of a good week with birdies at the ninth, 15th and 17th.
Nedbank Golf Challenge
66 R Fisher (Eng)
68 G Coetzee (RSA), M Siem (Ger), A Levy (Fra)
70 B Koepka (USA), S Gallacher (Sco), T Clark (RSA), C Schwartzel (RSA), L Oosthuizen (RSA), M Jiménez (Esp)
71 T Jaidee (Tha), J Blixt (Swe), D Willett (Eng), L Donald (Eng)
72 Shane Lowry (Irl), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), L Westwood (Eng), J Luiten (Ned),
73 B Todd (USA), P Larrazábal (Esp), D Van Der Walt (RSA),
74 M Kaymer (Ger), T Fleetwood (Eng), J Ahlers (RSA), J Donaldson (Wal),
75 M Warren (Sco),
76 M Ilonen (Fin),
77 D Van Tonder (RSA), K Na (USA),
80 T Bjørn (Den)