Australian Cameron Smith, ranked number 151 in the world, took the lead with a sparkling eight-under-par 64.
Smith, 24, victor along with Jonas Blixt at last April's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, made eight birdies in his first start of the new tour season. "It is very important to play well in the opening events", he said.
Thomas, who is attempting to become the first player to win the same event in three straight yeas since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic (2009-'11), made five birdies offset by three bogeys, including two on his back nine, to sit in a tie for 23rd in the 78-player field.
The 67 on Thursday marked the 11th time he scored 70 or under in last 13 rounds at the TPC Kuala Lumpur.
Schauffele was fighting simply to keep his PGA Tour card before a surprising T-5 finish at the U.S. Open sparked a torrid summer that included two wins. "Hit a lot of fairways and kind of made an easy day out of it", Schauffele told reporters.
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Thomas is coming off the back of a breakthrough season during which he racked up five wins including a maiden major victory and was named the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Lahiri, third a year ago at the same event, is coming of a tied-9th finish in the last start on the PGA Tour in the BMW Champion- ships, the third leg of the FedExCup play-offs. This is a big event but there is no cut so I'm only feeling 50% pressure.
"I was supposed to make a list of goals before I came out here and I failed to do so, which might be a good thing", Schauffele said.
Also tied in second is Keegan Bradley. Among those with 67s who are tied for eight are Brendan Steele, last week's victor at the Safeway Open, and Davis Love III. Now tied eighth, Lahiri is three shots behind Australian Cameron Smith, who after a successful rookie season on PGA Tour, holds the lead for the first time in his career.