On a low-scoring opening day at Fancourt in the co-sanctioned Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour event, the Peebles player carded a seven-under-par 65 on the Outeniqua course.
Howie sparked his effort in the event won by Lawrie in 2017 with straight birdies to start before going on to make nine in total.
He sits in a share of fourth spot, two shots behind Ryan Evans after the Englishman carded 11 birdies in career-best 62.
The blistering effort gave him the edge over Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey on nine under par, and fellow Englishman Daniel Gavins on eight under.
Afterwards, Evans said his day’s work had been inspired by a bit of golf advice from 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus and also personal advice from a friend.
“A friend of mine in America is Tom Watson’s manager, and he invited me around to Jack Nicklaus’s home for drinks,” he revealed.
“Mr Nicklaus showed me around his home and all of his major trophies. It was just an amazing hour of chatting with the greatest golfer of all time.
“I asked him what his favourite golf course was and he said, ‘I loved every single course I played’.
“He told me you have to go to every tournament and love every golf course because you’re there to win and there’s no point complaining about conditions or complaining about the golf course. Every course you go to must be the best course you’re going to play.”
The 34-year-old added: “And then I had a chat with a friend yesterday and I said I felt like I was taking bad results into the next week.
“He said just let it go and asked me why I started playing golf as a kid. I told him it was because I loved it. And he just said go out there and love the game.
“So I went out there with the mentality that I’m here to enjoy what I do.”
South African-based Doug McGuigan was next best among five Scots with a three-under 69 while Ewen Ferguson started eagle-birdie before having to settle for a 71 following a sore finish.