SEVILLE, Spain -- Shaun Micheel rediscovered the form that won him a major title nine years ago on Thursday, and leads the Reale Seguros Spanish Open in wet and windy Seville.
Without a full card on his home PGA Tour and down at 608th on the world rankings, the 43-year-old former PGA Champion fired a 5-under-par 67 nine years after his surprising victory at Oak Hill in 2003.
This tournament marks the 100th anniversary of the first Spanish Open as well as the 40th anniversary of the official launch of the European Tour.
Micheel's major win came a month after Ben Curtis caused an even bigger upset in the British Open at Sandwich. Curtis was also without a PGA Tour card until he returned to winning ways in the United States two weeks ago.
"I texted him right afterwards," said Micheel. "Every time somebody wins you have to look deep into why you're not, but I didn't particularly see this coming. I didn't have one birdie in the pro-am."
Nobody broke 70 during the morning, but as conditions improved Micheel made up for three bogeys with a superb eight birdies on the Jose Maria Olazabal-designed layout. He was a stroke in front of Englishmen Robert Rock and Danny Willett and Spaniard Jorge Campillo.
Rock, who conquered Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood in Abu Dhabi in January, eagled the 13th and 16th on his return to action after more than a month off. That break came after his failed attempt to climb into the world's top 50 in time for the Masters, but the leading 60 qualify for next month's U.S. Open and he is currently 60th.
Scotland's Paul Lawrie, 43rd in the rankings and with a chance to go to second in the European Ryder Cup points race, managed only a 78 playing with European Captain Olazabal, himself round in 75.
Lawrie finished 24th at Augusta National, but has decided not to play the U.S. Open. Having made the halfway cut in four U.S. Open starts, he believes his Ryder Cup hopes are best served by avoiding the trip to San Francisco.
"If you know you can't compete in a particular tournament, then why go?" he told reporters. "It's a big call and a lot of people are going to say I should be playing, but you have to do what you feel is best. I understand that it is a major, but I feel I have more chance of playing well at the BMW International Open the week after."
Italians Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero were part of the group in on 2 under, Molinari doing best of all the early starters who had to contend with lashing rain.
Campillo led the 30-strong home contingent on the 100th anniversary of the first staging of the tournament.
Big-hitting Alvaro Quiros, winner on this course two years ago, shot 73 and 48-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez, yet to win his national title, had a 75.
Former amateur international Matthew Baldwin of England bogeyed the seventh and eighth, but a closing birdie for 69 put him in fifth place on his own overnight.
"I holed two 30-footers on my first two holes, so that was a nice way to start," he said. "It was very windy, so you had to control your ball flight and I did it well. I had a couple of three-putts, but the greens were getting a bit scrappy at the end because everybody had been on them."