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The 30 year-old Watson lost in qualifying for the recent Australian Open, having made the singles main draw for 11 consecutive years, but she is already beginning to make up for the Melbourne disappointment.
Kazakh Putintseva is ranked 44th in the world, while Watson has slipped to 160th, but the Guernsey native has been as high as 38th in her career and won four titles on the WTA Tour.
She showed there is still a hunger to succeed, edging a tight contest 5-7 6-4 7-5 (7-5) to make Putintseva the biggest early casualty.
Top seed Bianca Andreescu had no such trouble against Watson's compatriot Harriet Dart, as the Canadian went through a 6-3 6-4 winner.
Czech 17 year-old Linda Fruhvirtova, seeded eighth and at a career-high 51st in the WTA rankings, overwhelmed American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3 6-1.
Fellow seeds Marta Kostyuk, Anna Kalinskaya and Tatjana Maria also came through their opening tests at the tournament in Hua Hin.
At the Lyon Open, French top seed Caroline Garcia fended off Czech Tereza Martincova 6-4 7-6 (7-4) in round one, delighting a home crowd.
Champion at the WTA Finals at the end of last season, Garcia surprisingly lost in round four of the Australian Open to unseeded Pole Magda Linette, who went on a fairy tale run to the semi-finals.
Garcia said of the win over Martincova: "It was a tough match. She's a great player. She's already played great battles against top players, and it's a first round, so you really never know what is going to happen."
Second seed Zhang Shuai beat American Madison Brengle 6-3 6-2, but eighth seed Anna Blinkova bowed out, retiring when 4-0 behind in a deciding set against fellow Russian Erika Andreeva.