Former champion Matthew Griffin emphasised his liking for the familiar surrounds of the 13th Beach links layout, firing a seven-under 65 to be among the early contenders for the Vic Open.
Griffin, who won the title in 2014, took advantage of mild early morning breezes to attack the Creek layout at the 36-hole course on the Bellarine Peninsula.
He shared the lead with Travis Smyth, Justin Warren and Jake McLeod until late on Thursday when experienced Spaniard Alejandro Canizares nailed three late birdies to seize the outright lead with a sizzling 63.
Griffin played in a one of the form groups on day one, alongside 2018 champion Simon Hawkes, who shot 67, and Jason Scrivener (68).
"It's always nice to come back to a place you've won before," Griffin said.
"I hit all 18 greens so it created a lot of chances. I think out there when there's not a lot of wind, there's plenty of chances, so it's nice to capitalise on that," he said.
Smyth, who plays on the Asian tour, also made a strong start with a seven-under 65 as the morning groups capitalised on ideal playing conditions.
"It's starting to trend in the right direction," he said.
"In the middle of my first year, even the middle of last year in Asia, I just couldn't really figure it out.
"I just felt a bit off and the scores weren't really reflecting how I was playing. I just sort of pushed through, a few things sort of changed and momentum is on your side again."
Brad Kennedy, last year's runner-up, also made a solid start with 66 on the Creek course while Scotland's David Law opened his title defence with a 68 .
Veteran Geoff Ogilvy finished with a flurry, picking up three shots in the last four holes, including an eagle at the par-five 18th for a 67 on the Beach course, which is considered the tougher of the two layouts.
Australia's Jediah Morgan was the leading amateur in a tie for sixth after carding a 66.