The 13th Beach Golf Club was playing host to a unique week on the 2020 Race to Dubai, with both a men's and a women's tournament being played over the same courses for equal prize money.
The field will play the Creek Course and the Beach Course on days one and two before moving to the Beach on the weekend, as the Vic Open makes its second appearance on the European Tour.
Spaniard Cañizares was playing the more forgiving Creek Course but needed to control the ball in the afternoon winds, making ten birdies and a bogey in a 63 to move to nine under.
Cañizares has had to come through the Q School for the past two seasons and has missed his last three cuts but the son of Ryder Cup great José Maria Cañizares is a two time European Tour winner, and he showed that class in Victoria.
"It was a great round," he said. "I putted really well, I hit the ball well as well, I don't think I missed many greens. It was one of those days where you saw the hole pretty big.
"I didn't have many expectations because it's a long way from home so you don't know how you're going to feel but I was hitting the ball well, I'm working on the right things.
"I'm just surprised I've played so crap the last three years more so than today. It's been complicated, I got injured three years ago and it took a while. I became a dad a year ago, life changes.
"I'm getting back to it, I'm starting to work hard on it and I'm still motivated. I've been on Tour for 13 or 14 years and I still want to do it. I've still got half of my career ahead of me."
I'm still motivated. I've been on Tour for 13 or 14 years and I still want to do it. I've still got half of my career ahead of me
The 37-year-old got on the tenth green in two for an opening birdie and then made a hat-trick of gains from the 12th before surrendering his only shot of the day on the 16th.
Another two putt birdie followed on the 17th before he picked up shots on the first and third and took advantage of the seventh to share the lead.
A 25 foot putt on the eighth meant he led alone and a tenth birdie of the day on the ninth gave him a cushion to take to the Beach Course on day two.
McLeod made a fast start with birdies on the first and second and never looked back, adding further gains on the seventh, ninth, 11th, 13th and last.
Smyth also birdied his first two holes and picked up shots on the sixth, seventh, ninth, tenth and 14th.
Griffin and Warren also had clean cards as they made seven birdies to share top spot before Cañizares' late surge.
Frenchman Sciot-Siegrist was out in the very first group of the day and made seven birdies and a single bogey on the Beach, while Canadian Cockerill was bogey free on the same layout.
Lee finished third at the Australian PGA Championship and he recovered from back to back bogeys on the back nine to come home in 31 after starting on the tenth on the Creek Course.
European Tour winner Ryan Fox had his wife on the bag after his regular caddie fell ill and he was in a group of 16 players four shots off the lead alongside Dutchman Will Besseling, Northern Ireland's Jonathan Caldwell, American Sean Crocker and Major Champion Geoff Ogilvy, one clear of defending champion David Law.
In the women's event, Madelene Sagstrom and Haeji Kang led the way at eight under.