Westwood, who finished second 12 months ago, having also been a bridesmaid in 2010, produced a birdie burst on the back nine to get off to a promising start in his bid to go one better in the season’s opening major.
The 43-year-old picked up five shots in a row in a run that saw him go 4-3-4-2-3 from the 13th as he carded a two-under 70 to sit third, five shots behind leader Charley Hoffman.
“It really got some momentum going and got me back in the tournament,” said Westwood of his surge up the leaderboard.
“When you are three‑over par through 12, you would absolutely love it if you ended up 2‑under par.”
Earlier, Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan all signed for 71s to sit in a group sharing joint-fourth.
Rose, who has also come close here, finishing second behind Jordan Spieth two years ago, birdied the last, as did Sullivan.
“If you beat the golf course today, you can be pretty proud of yourself,” said Rose, the Olympic champion.
“I’ve not played the course in a heavy wind like this before. There is no respite out there. Even simple tap ins aren’t simple.”
On some of the English players getting off to good starts, he added: “With 11 of us, you’d get some good odds of a couple of us being on the leaderboard. But you still have to go out and do it.”
Taking up where he left off when closing with a 67 a year ago to finish joint-seventh behind compatriot Danny Willett, Fitzpatrick was out in front on three-under before closing with a double-bogey 6.
“It was tough,” said DP World Tour champ Fitzpatrick of the day’s test.
Former Scottish Open Stroke-Play champion Sullivan, who birdied the last, concurred.
“It’s brutal out there,” he declared. “It’s more like an Open Championship today and I’m happy to get it round in under par.”
Paul Casey, who has finished in the top six here in the last two years, is well placed again, sitting in a share of 12th after a 72, one better than defending champion Danny Willett.
It was a praiseworthy effort from the Yorkshireman considering he’d started 6-6 before hitting back with three birdies.
“When I was stood on the third tee, if someone had said I would shoot 73 I would have ripped their hand off and walked up the hill and gone inside and had a cup of tea,” said Willett.
“It was a less than ideal start, not what I had envisaged the last 12 months starting out my defence, but I fought back really well, dug my heels in and hit some really good golf shots.”
As for some of the other English players, Chris Wood shot 74, Ross Fisher had a 76 and Tommy Fleetwood signed for a 78.
Albeit on his debut, Race to Dubai leader Fleetwood would have been disappointed with that, as would Tyrrell Hatton with his 80.
Amateur champion Scott Gregory started with a triple-bogey 7 and also took a 6 at the 12th as he slumped to an 82.