A year after his bid for a Ryder Cup debut was scuppered by a wrist injury, the 29-year-old is only 163rd on the money list and has slumped from 63rd in the world to 543rd.
But, needing things to go his way, he sank his four-iron approach to the 503-yard 17th for an eagle two and also had five birdies in a flawless display.
McGowan will not be taking anything for granted, however. A fortnight ago he started the Madrid Masters with another 64 and led there as well, only to fall all the way back to 42nd.
Without a single top 15 finish all season he told Sky Sports: "It's nice to be playing well again and up in contention.
"I'm not really thinking about the 'Race to Dubai' at the moment. I'm just trying to play each shot at a time and put up a good result at the end of the week."
On the eagle he added: "I wasn't sure it had gone in. I heard one clap, got up there and found it in the hole."