He owns a one-shot lead over reigning PGA champion Rich Beem, Geoff Ogilvy, Steve Allan, Chris Downes and WGC-NEC Invitational winner Craig Parry.
The first round was contested Friday after tournament officials cancelled Thursday's action due to unplayable greens. The players were scheduled for 18 holes on Friday and Saturday with a 36-hole finale on Sunday, but officials reduced the tournament to 54 holes after none of Thursday's action was counted.
Howell was certainly lucky that Thursday's play was wiped away. He was on pace for a plus-80 round on the incredibly difficult greens but came out on Friday and played steady with five pars to open his round.
'I was contemplating a vacation in Melbourne or Sydney, if I am down here I might as well enjoy it,' said Howell, who earned his first PGA Tour win at the Michelob Championship. 'I wasn't giving up but it wasn't very pretty.'
Howell carded his first birdie at the sixth and added two more before the turn for a front-nine, 3-under 31.
'That was the first birdie I've made out here,' said Howell, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Friday. 'It took quite a few holes to get that. It broke the ice.'
He birdied the 12th but dropped his first shot at the par-3 16th. The 23-year-old birdied 17 to reach 4-under par but saved his best for the last hole. Howell knocked his 8-iron approach into a bunker at 18 but blasted out to tap-in range for his sixth birdie of the round and a one-shot lead.
Parry bogeyed his first hole but mixed six birdies and a bogey the rest of the way for his 66.
'Before I went out (today), I actually went to see Colin Phillips (the Australian Golf Union Chief Executive Officer) and told him I thought he did a great job yesterday canceling the round,' Parry said. 'I've played a lot of tournaments all over the world where the balls have come off the greens and it has been very tricky.'
Beem started slowly with a bogey at the fourth and seven pars. He eagled the par-5 ninth and added a birdie at No. 13 and an eagle at No. 18 to get within one shot of the lead.
Adam Crawford, Wayne Grady, Jens Nilsson and defending champion Stuart Appleby are tied for seventh place at 3-under-par 67.
Aaron Baddeley, a two-time winner of this event, posted an even-par 70 in the first round. Robert Allenby was a shot further back with a one-over 71.