Thongchai Jaidee fired a 7-under 65 on Thursday to grab a 3-stroke lead over Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen after one round of the Volvo Golf Champions.
Jaidee, of Thailand, carded eight birdies against a single bogey at an inclement Durban Country Club. The 43-year-old is seeking his sixth European Tour victory.
"I really enjoyed it," said Jaidee. "It was a really good round for me for my first tournament in 2013."
The former Open champions Els and Oosthuizen both closed their respective rounds with a birdie to reach 4-under 68.
Paul Lawrie, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, Danny Willett, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jamie Donaldson and Thomas Bjorn are tied for fourth place at 3-under 69. Jamieson won the 2013 season-opening Nelson Mandela Championship and tied for third at the Alfred Dunhill Championship a week later
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, Francesco Molinari, Robert Rock and Shane Lowry share 11th at 2-under, while two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen highlights a group of six knotted in 15th at even-par.
Defending champion Branden Grace opened with a pair of pars and an eagle before stumbling to a 3-over 75. The South African recorded five bogeys over his last 14 holes.
Last year, Grace edged Els and Goosen in a playoff to capture his second successive European Tour victory. He totaled four wins on the tour in 2012 and finished sixth in the Race to Dubai.
Jaidee qualified for this winners-only field by capturing the ISPS Handa Wales Open last June -- an event which was also subjected to wind and rain.
The former paratrooper opened strong on Thursday and was up by five strokes at one point. He was 5-under through eight holes, aided by a pair of back- to-back birdie runs.
After picking up birdies on Nos. 10 and 15, Jaidee suffered his only misstep of the day when he bogeyed the par-4 17th. He bounced backed aptly, though, with a birdie on the last to enter the clubhouse with the lead.
"I'm very happy with that," said Jaidee. "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."
NOTES: The field includes the first two winners of the 2013 campaign, every winner from the 2012 European Tour International Schedule, past champions of the event, and golfers with 10 or more European Tour victories ... Last year, Grace birdied the first playoff to hole defeat Els and Goosen.