Bubba Watson set the clubhouse target but had a strong group of European Tour Members chasing him down after day one of the weather-delayed Shenzhen International.
The big-hitting American posted a six under par 66 before an hour and 50 minutes of play was lost in the afternoon due to the threat of lightning at Genzon Golf Club.
South African duo Dean Burmester and Haydn Porteous, Frenchman Grégory Bourdy, Thai Thongchai Jaidee and German Maximilian Kieffer all completed their rounds to sit just a shot back.
Another South African, Dylan Frittelli, was then in the clubhouse at four under, with Dane Thorbjørn Olesen, Spaniard Eduardo de la Riva and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger at the same mark with holes left to complete when play resumes at 0630 on Friday.
Watson has been one of the headline acts in each of the first three editions of the event and was looking to improve on his best finish of a tie for eighth last season.
An early bogey threatened to scupper those plans but that was the only blemish of his round as he set the early target.
"You know anytime you shoot six under, shoot in the 60s, you’re happy with it but every golfer can pick and choose what they wish they did better, but all in all a great day and a good start," he said.
"I just made putts today. Most of my swings and most of my shots were really good today and there were no bad swings in there so it just made the score better.
"The more you play the golf course, the more you are going to learn it and get better at it and, like the saying is, this is our home course, so after two years of playing it I should know by now."
Watson's bogey came on the 12th after starting on the tenth but the two-time Masters Tournament champion bounced back with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th to turn in 34.
A birdie at the first was followed by an approach to eight feet on the par five second setting up an eagle that catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard.
He was joined by both Burmester and Porteous at the summit after a run of six pars - including a save after hitting the pin on the seventh - but a final gain on the ninth put him alone in the driving seat.
Porteous had a roller coaster of a round containing just four pars as he looks to continue his improving recent form after missing his first six cuts of the season.
The 22 year old parred the first but made four birdies and two bogeys in his next six holes before a double-bogey on the ninth saw him turn in 36.
This is our home course, so after two years of playing it I should know by now - Bubba Watson
Gains on the tenth, 11th and 13th were followed by a dropped shot on the 15th but a birdie-birdie-birdie finish put him right in contention.
Countryman Burmester turned in 33 and when he picked up shots on the first and second he was in a share of the lead with Watson. A bogey on the seventh dropped him back but he made a closing gain on the ninth.
Bourdy also birdied the ninth in his blemish-free effort with further gains coming on the 14th, 17th, first and sixth.
Kieffer made his only bogey of the day on the sixth as he turned in 35 but came to life on the back nine, birdieing the 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th.
Jaidee had to finish his round in the twilight but showed all his experience to make two birdies in his last four holes.
The eight-time European Tour winner made four birdies in five holes from the seventh before doing well to only drop a single shot on the 12th after having to play his second-shot one-handed. Birdies on the 15th and 17th then put him back in the mix.
Frittelli had six birdies and two bogeys in his round, with Olesen and Wiesberger both left with two holes to complete in the morning.
De la Riva will have six holes to complete after playing his first 12 bogey-free.
Tommy Fleetwood, Daniel Im, Liang Ding-feng and Liu Yan-Wei were all in the clubhouse at three under.