The 23-year-old, runner-up last year after losing to countryman Anirban Lahiri in a play-off, nailed nine birdies and one eagle for his career's lowest round, which was one shot shy of the course record held by Liang Wen-chong of China and the Asian Tour's lowest 18 hole mark held jointly by Liang and England's Lee Westwood.
Sri Lanka's Mithun Perera and Qualifying School winner Akinori Tani of Japan shot matching 66s to trail the runaway leader while Bangladeshi Siddikur Rahman and Australia's Scott Barr came home with 67s in the US$300,000 Asian Tour event sponsored by the Steel Authority of India Limited and State Bank of India.
"This is my best round," enthused Khan, who is the Indian PGTI number one. "It was really important for me. I've been trying to shoot double digits and I've been close in the past. I've managed it now, I'm really happy."
The slender Indian, touted as a future star of the game after an impressive amateur career which included a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games, turned in 32 and then romped home in 29, thanks to five more birdies and a superb eagle on the 14th hole after drilling a rescue approach to 12 feet of the flag.
The thought of shooting the magical 59 flashed across his mind after he moved to double digits under par through 16 holes but his hopes ended when he could only par the par three 17th hole. "On 17, I took the wrong club, and hit it past the flag and had a really good putt and just missed it," said Khan.
With a full Asian Tour card in his hand for the 2014 season after he finished 40th on the Order of Merit through only five starts, Khan hopes to make up for last year's SAIL-SBI Open play-off defeat to countryman Anirban Lahiri at a course which he calls "my second home."
"I was born here, I started playing golf here and it's always a special place for me. My uncle was the club pro and I had the privilege to practice here because of him," said Khan. "I was pretty confident I would do well but I never expected to start with a 61. My target is to win an Asian Tour tournament. Let's see if it comes this week or later. I'll be really focused," added Khan, who has four domestic tour victories under his belt.
Perera, another newcomer who has impressed his fellow competitors, has won three events on the Indian circuit in as many weeks but is dreaming of a first Asian Tour triumph. He started his day strongly with an easy birdie on 10 and finished off his round in style, shooting two birdies and an eagle over his last three holes.
"Six under in my first event of the Asian Tour season, I'm happy. The last three weeks have been so good. I had the confidence to bring into this week's tournament. Rashid is a good player and he's started with such a deep round. Hopefully I can give him a fight," said Perera.
The ever-consistent Siddikur, who won the Hero Indian Open at the fabled Delhi course in November, snared seven birdies against two bogeys to move into the title mix. "It was great, I really enjoyed it," said the Bangladeshi, who will represent Team Asia in the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM in Malaysia against Europe next month.
"I missed a few short putts. My putting could have been better. I kept recalling back on my Indian Open win. I kept thinking about the rhythm which I had that week. I saw that Rashid had shot an 11-under round. We've seen this sort of low scores in the first day but at the end of the week, they don't normally win. It can happen and it has happened in the past."
Barr is keen to end his title drought on the Asian Tour despite starting to venture into business and television commentary work in recent times. "I'm still quite keen to play. I sort of moved away from the technique that I've been using for the past few years and started to work on something a bit more different. I'm pleased with the progress," said the Singapore-based Aussie.
Title holder Lahiri was disappointed he limped home in 37 after making three birdies on his outward nine as he ended the day nine shots back of Khan. "Those bogeys on the back nine were just criminal," lamented Lahiri, who ended the 2013 season in third place on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit.
"Hats off to Rashid "¦ that's an incredible round of golf. I think I just lost momentum and concentration a little bit on the back nine. Tomorrow is another day. I'll have to shoot really low."
Several Australians are playing the events, the best of them being Scott Barr who opened with a respectable 67 but six shots from the lead.
Scores after round 1 of the SAIL - SBI Open being played at the par 72, 6,928 Yards Delhi GC course (a- denotes amateur):
61 - Rashid KHAN (IND).
66 - Mithun PERERA (SRI), Akinori TANI (JPN).
67 - Scott BARR (AUS), Siddikur RAHMAN (BAN).
68 - S.S.P CHOWRASIA (IND), Chikka S (IND), Sanjay KUMAR (IND), C. MUNIYAPPA (IND), Steve LEWTON (ENG), Angelo QUE (PHI), Digvijay SINGH (IND), Shamim KHAN (IND), KIM Gi-whan (KOR), George GANDRANATA (INA), Abhijit CHADHA (IND).
69 - Vikrant CHOPRA (IND), Carlos PIGEM (ESP), Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA), Kapil KUMAR (IND), Marcus BOTH (AUS), Shubhankar SHARMA (IND), GULFAM (IND), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Chiragh KUMAR (IND), Iain STEEL (MAS), SHIN Hyuk-chul (KOR), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Thanyakon KHRONGPHA (THA), Unho PARK (AUS).