(CNN) -- South African Richard Sterne almost did the "impossible" as a ten-under-par 62 left him just one shot outside the 1994 course record set by his famous compatriot Ernie Els as he set the pace in the Dubai Desert Classic Thursday.
The 31-year-old reveled in the benign scoring conditions on the Majils course at the Emirates Golf Course and came close to matching the 61 Els produced 19 years ago on his way to a commanding victory.
"I knew Ernie had shot 61 quite a while ago and always thought it would be impossible to get close, but I got as close as you could," he told the official European Tour website.
"Hopefully I can just keep going and give myself a chance on Sunday when it counts. I do want to win again and that's one of the goals for the year.
"It's been a while since I've won -- it's just not that easy to do anymore!"
Five-time European Tour winner Sterne, who was hit by a back problem in 2010, shot ten birdies in his first 16 holes, but could only par the last two.
It left him one shot ahead of Scotland's Stephen Gallacher with Tommy Fleetwood, early Race to Dubai leader Scott Jamieson and Chris Doak on seven-under 65.
Tournament star attraction Lee Westwood began his 2013 campaign with a five-under 67, the same mark as 56-year-old American star Mark O'Meara.
Westwood, joint second with Gallacher at the event last year, showed little signs of rustiness in a round which included two eagles, the first after he holed a 175-yard seven iron on the sixth. Another followed on the 13th and he also had a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th.
"It was a bizarre round," he said.
"I chipped in and three-putted from six feet -- everything was happening. I drove it great and hit a lot of shots close."
England's Chris Wood and Spanish star Sergio Garcia, who finished first and second in Qatar last weekend, were both on 68.
Defending champion Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain started his campaign with a 69.
Newly appointed European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley started with a 74, one of only 32 players in a 132-strong field to be over par on the first day.