Raymond Russell, Marcel Siem, Jesus Maria Arruti and David Lynn share second place with opening rounds of 6-under-par 66 at the Arden Course at Marriot Forest of Arden Hotel & Country Club.
Former Ryder Cuppers Jarmo Sandelin, Lee Westwood and Volvo PGA Championship winner Ignacio Garrido are tied for sixth place at 5-under 67. Westwood, who won the Order of Merit in 2000 but has struggled badly since, posted his best opening round since the Carlsberg Malaysian Open in February of this year.
Fowler parred the opening two holes before collecting three birdies in a row from the third. He birdied the par-5 seventh hole to make the turn at 4-under-par 32.
On the second nine, Fowler once again put together string of great golf. He tallied three birdies over a four-hole span starting at No. 12 and continued his streak of not posting an opening round over-par in 11 starts so far in 2003.
Fowler, who turns 44 next week, admitted on Thursday that the current youth movement in professional golf inspired him to work his game and body into better shape.
'They all inspired me. They work hard and work out hard and swing the club well and are well mannered guys,' said Fowler. 'Justin Rose is another in the same mould. Just to be out there still, competing with these guys, is great fun.'
Fowler left the European Tour in 1996 after a string of bad finishes on the Order of Merit. He took 149th, 146th and 159th in the three years prior to '96 and seemingly left the game for good.
'I played rubbish and decided to go back to New Zealand and didn't expect to return,' said Fowler, who has only one European Tour victory. 'But I kept chipping away at my game and tried to improve and I've been inspired by the good young guys like Adam Scott, Stephen Scahill, Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby.'
Andrew Coltart, Simon Khan and Greg Owen share ninth place at 4-under-par 68.
Rose, the defending champion, made a late move up the leaderboard. He eagled his 16th, the seventh at Marriot Forest, from 15 feet then holed a 45-footer for birdie at the eighth. He finished with a 3-under 69 and headlines a group tied for 12th.
Darren Clarke opened with a 1-under 71 and is part of a group tied for 37th.
Colin Montgomerie, the 1998 British Masters champion, carded a 1-over 73 on Thursday and is tied for 85th, eight shots behind Fowler.