Retief Goosen celebrated his 42nd birthday with a pace-setting three under par 69 in the windswept opening round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy.
Without a European Tour victory since the same event four years ago - and without a title anywhere for nearly two years - the twice US Open Champion shone in conditions that caused real problems for many of the star names in the field.
As the round drew to a close in fading light Goosen held the clubhouse lead by one from defending champion Robert Karlsson, 2003 winner Darren Fichardt and England's Richard Finch.
Former Ryder Cup player Niclas Fasth, in the last group of the day, just had time to birdie the driveable 16th and join Goosen out in front on three under before play for the day was called off because of darkness.
South African Goosen was the only player to break 70, although Swede Fasth has a chance to join him in the morning.
Lee Westwood, who could lose the World Number One spot if Martin Kaymer finishes in the top two on Sunday, managed a 73 and that was good enough for a place inside the top 20.
After only one bogey all week a fortnight ago, Kaymer dropped shots at the sixth and 12th and then drove into rocks three holes later en route to a 77.
The US PGA Championship winner tried to play his way out of trouble, but knocked the ball only a few yards and then took a penalty drop en route to a double bogey six.
Goosen was joint third in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, albeit ten shots adrift of Kaymer, and continued that form in the far more difficult conditions.
"I drove it nicely, but it was tough to get the ball close to the flags and when you were putting you were getting blown all over the place," Goosen said.
"It wasn't easy. I putted well in these conditions, made a few good putts and par saves and that kept my score together."
Fasth's last win was also four years ago and it is now nine years since he helped Europe win The Ryder Cup at The Belfry.
He made a 15 foot birdie putt on the seventh, his 16th, in the fast-fading light to put himself and Goosen one ahead.
Karlsson scrambled brilliantly at times and the former European Number One was pleased to be in contention for a third title in the desert in 12 months after winning the season-ending Dubai World Championship in November.
"The one on six was a bit special," he said. "To keep the round going, it's easy to get into if you're holing out well.
"I've played well here a few times and the year before I won. I like this golf course, it's always in great condition."