India's team of Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa and the Australian pair of Peter Lonard and Mark Hensby are tied for second place at 12-under-par 60.
There are 24 two-man teams from all around the world competing this week. On Thursday, play was contested as a four-ball and that will be the format on Saturday as well. On Friday and Sunday, it will be alternate shot or foursomes.
The English team won last year in Spain, but it was Donald and Paul Casey. Donald, who was the highest-ranking British player and thus got to pick his partner, chose Howell, who won last week's HSBC Champions Tournament in China.
England parred its first hole, then went on a fabulous run of golf. They went 8-under par over their next seven holes, including an eagle at the par-5 third.
Donald drained a five-footer for birdie at the ninth to make the turn at 9-under-par 27. Howell did his part at the 10th when his 30-foot birdie putt fell into the bottom of the hole.
'The way we were playing, we had so much momentum on our side,' Donald said of being 10-under through 10 holes. 'We were thinking we could birdie every hole.'
Donald had a 20-foot birdie look at the 11th, but his putt skimmed over the hole. He tapped in for par, the first for the English team since the opening hole.
'As soon as we made that par on 11, you know, we just lost the momentum a little bit,' Donald admitted.
The par did stall the English side -- they made pars at 12, 13 and 14 -- but it wasn't long before they returned to making birdies.
At the par-4 15th, Donald's approach was headed toward the flag, but spun back to 15 feet. No matter, as the No. 15 player in the world converted the birdie try to send his side to 11-under par.
Donald hit a beautiful tee ball at the par-3 16th that landed inside three feet. He holed that birdie putt, then Howell drained a six-foot birdie putt at the 17th to give England the lead.
Neither player mentioned to the other the chances of shooting a 59 with a par at 18.
'We didn't say anything,' added Donald.
India was 6-under par on its front nine with six birdies and three pars. India flew out of the gate on the back nine Thursday with three birdies and an eagle on its first four holes.
Atwal collected a birdie at the par-five 17th to put the relatively unknown team in the hunt.
'We didn't even know we were playing until two weeks or three weeks ago,' said Atwal. 'The Asian Tour let us know we got in. They asked him and he picked me and I'm lucky.'
The Australian team was flawless on Thursday with 12 birdies and no bogeys. The 12 birdies included a run of six in a row from the 10th.
'Mark did all the work on the front nine, then let me in on a few holes just to make myself feel wanted, then took over later on,' said Lonard. 'It was a good day all over.'
Spain's team of Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday and are tied for sixth place with the team from Chinese Taipei.
Paraguay, France, Japan and the Netherlands are knotted in eighth place after posting opening rounds of 9-under-par 63.
The American team of Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson carded a 7-under 65 and are part of a group tied for 13th place.
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