Hirscher only has a slalom silver from Sochi to show for his Olympic efforts despite dominating the World Cup circuit where he has been overall champion for six consecutive years.
But the slalom specialist, 28, battled down a wind-swept Jeongseon course shortened to the start of the super-G because of gusting conditions to finish 12th, 1.32sec off German Thomas Dressen's top time of 1min 19.24sec.
The top 30 finishers in the downhill start in reverse order in the slalom, often making for a nail-biting climax as the technical skiers make up time on the out-and-out downhillers.
Among Hirscher's rivals on the floodit slalom will be France's Alexis Pinturault, who finished 10th, 0.28sec ahead of the Austrian, seeking a first combined gold for his country since 1998.
"It's a good position ahead of the slalom," said Pinturault, with France bidding for a first Olympic podium finish in the event in 70 years.
"The course was perfectly prepared. Only the wind was a problem -- the snow was perfect," said the Frenchman, twice a World Cup winner in the discipline.
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal finished second in the downhill, the start of which was not only lowered but was drawn out on the blue "wind line" which effectively reduced jumps by up to 15 metres.
Svindal, a two-time former world combined champion, finished ahead of Austria's defending Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer, with another Norwegian, three-time Olympic medallist Kjetil Jansrud, fourth.
Svindal said the course conditions were "faster" than they had been in downhill training.
"It's a touch harder but it's also a bit bumpy, I think the wind has polished everything a little bit," the towering Norwegian said.
"The wind is a little on and off, so some people were lucky and others not so much."
Svindal jokingly added: "I've been training super-G over the last couple of days, but thinking about it right now, I should have trained slalom because I haven't done it for two years!"
Hirscher's teammate Marco Schwarz, an all-out slalom specialist, was also well poised in 19th at 1.74sec, while French medal hope Victor Muffat-Jeandet made a big error to come in more than 2.3sec off the pace.
The slalom is scheduled for 3:00pm (0600 GMT).
The combined finally kicked off an alpine skiing programme which has seen strong winds and unfavourable weather forecasts force the postponement of the opening men's downhill from Sunday to Thursday and the women's giant slalom from Monday to Thursday.