Ricardo Santos (Getty Images)
Ricardo Santos, who last year became Portugal's first European Tour winner for 20 years, made a flying start to the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha.
The 30 year old from Faro fired a seven under par 65 as the early starters took advantage of an unusually calm morning in the second leg of the three-week Desert Swing.
Santos, whose victory at the Madeira Islands Open came with a closing 63, led by a stroke from England's Anthony Wall and Scot Peter Whiteford.
“I just played really well, especially my short game,” said Santos. “I missed a few shots from the tee but then recovered very well and just kept it like that.
“When you start like that, get to the top of the leaderboard, it's really nice - especially when you play quite well.
“My short game today was really amazing, especially the putts; I'm really happy.
“It's really important for me and for Portugal as well. We need to welcome more players and I think it's really important when you play the first season on the main tour and win a tournament, especially in your home country, I think it's very important and means a lot for me.
“I just want to enjoy the season, and I want to go to The Race to Dubai, I think that's my target this season.”
Spain's Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, began his season with a 69, but holder Paul Lawrie and Open Champion Ernie Els both had to settle for level par 72s, Els finishing with a bogey six.
Last year’s Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Santos made six unsuccessful trips to The European Tour Qualifying School before coming through the Challenge Tour two years ago.
The World Number 184 came fourth in Abu Dhabi on Sunday and after going to the turn in 34 grabbed five front nine birdies.
He added: “It means a lot because last week gave me a lot of confidence to play this week and the next week, so I'm really happy for the last week and also for this.
“Last week was an amazing week for me, it gave me a lot of confidence to come here to Qatar and to improve my game.
“I think normal when you play good the season before you come to the next season with a different spirit.
“Winning Rookie of the Year gave me a lot of confidence for this season. I practice a lot to have a more consistent game and that's my target for this season, that and just enjoy myself.”
Wall and Whiteford are ranked 231st and 326th respectively, but The European Tour's growing strength in depth was further illustrated by them going bogey-free to tuck in just behind Santos.
Former winner Henrik Stenson looked as if he might be the man to catch, but after reaching five under the Swede ran up three bogeys in a row - the last of them finding the lake at the short eighth, his 17th.
New Zealand's Michael Campbell took another step on the comeback trail with a 68, but South African Retief Goosen, another former US Open Champion, could not recover from opening with a double bogey seven and signed for a 74.
The afternoon starters, amongst them World Numbers Four and Five Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen as well as US Ryder Cup star Jason Dufner, were finding it difficult to catch Santos.
Going best were Germany’s former US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka and Austria’s Martin Wiegele – all three reaching five under on the back nine.
Rose and Oosthuizen were both three under approaching the last.