The Scot carded six birdies in a five-under-par 67 at Silverado County Club in Napa, where American Scott Piercy set the pace with a course-record 62.
Starting his 10th season on the US circuit, Laird took up where he left off at the end of the last campaign, when he enjoyed a welcome return to form.
Piercy made 12 birdies to sit two shots clear of Paul Casey and Patton Kizzire.
“I think I made more putts in feet than I did all of last season,” the leader told pgatour.com.
Spain’s Jon Rahm had a debut PGA Tour round to remember as he made a hole-in-one at just his second hole - the 11th.
Phil Mickelson, a member of USA’s winning Ryder Cup side at Hazeltine a fortnight ago, carded a two-under 70.
Raymond Russell, the 2010 winner, shared the lead after the opening round of the Beko Classic at Gloria Golf in Belek, Turkey.
The Scot carded a flawless seven-under-par 65 to sit at the top of the leaderboard alongside Englishman Phil Golding.
Russell, the 1996 Cannes Open champion, opened with two birdies before finishing with a hat-trick of gains.
Fellow Scot Graham Fox had a hole-in-one - at the 17th - in his 71, one better than former Open champion John Daly.
Vikki Laing was the leading Scot at the end of the first day in the Xiamen International Open in China.
As Yuting Shi set the pace with a seven-under 65, Laing signed for a 70, one better than Pamela Pretswell.
Carly Booth, the only other Scot in the field, was just outside the cut mark after a 74.
Montrose man Graeme Brown finished joint-10th in the UniCredit PGA Professional Championship at Prevets in Bulgaria.
In an event reduced to 54 holes by heavy rain, Brown signed off with a 73 for a four-under total, finishing 10 behind Ralph Miller as the Dutchman claimed the Euros 10,000 top prize.
Daniel Young, the 2015 Scottish Amateur Championship runner-up, was sitting just outside the top 20 after the opening round of the Abruzzo Open on the Alps Tour.
The Perth man carded a one-under-par 70 to lie six shots behind Frenchman Raphael Marguery at Miglianico.
Former Scotland international Brian Soutar showed he can still play a bit by winning the Midland Alliance event at Pitreavie.
Soutar, who won the South African Amateur Championship before taking a break from the game, fired a four-under-par 67 for a three-shot victory at the Dunfermline course.