The Spaniard fired a 6-under-par 65 his first trip around the Carnoustie layout. That's leaves him two clear of Ireland's Paul McGinley after 18 holes.
U-S Open champ Angel Cabrera of Argentina, 2005 U-S Open winner Michael Campbell of New Zealand, Austria's Markus Brier, American Boo Weekely and 18-year-old amateur Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland are next at minus-3.
Tiger Woods is right in the thick of things. The two-time defending champion canned an improbable 90-foot birdie putt on his way to a 69. The world number number one is tied with
South Korea's K.J. Choi, Stewart Cink, Irishman Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jiminez of Spain.
Jim Furyk carded a 1-under 70 and Two-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson matched par with a 71.
Former champion John Daly got it to 5 under after eleven holes but blew up down the stretch and signed for a 3-over 74.