Lee Westwood shot a first-round 66 to lead the World Tour Championship, Dubai by one shot, while Henrik Stenson sits one stroke behind Race to Dubai title rival Danny Willett.
Westwood, who won the event in 2009, handed in a card with only one blemish, the Englishman having bogeyed the par-four 12th.
It did little to put a downer on an otherwise excellent round from the 43-year-old, who was delighted with his day's work.
"This is as good as I've played for quite some time," he said. "I've found a couple of keys in different parts of my game and I've been working on them hard. It all came together.
"A 66 is a good round of golf. It didn't seem that easy out there. Some days you feel like there's a lot of birdies out there, but I think it was a pretty stiff test.
"It's a golf course I've played well on in the past and I've had quite a few good results here other than the win and played pretty well in the desert. I've been looking forward to this week."
He has fellow Team Europe Ryder Cup player Nicolas Colsaerts in close company, with the Belgian joining Julien Quesne on five under.
Sergio Garcia, Joost Luiten and Francesco Molinari are a shot further back.
Stenson, who leads the Race to Dubai standings as he seeks to regain the honour he won in 2013, carded an even-par 72, with Willett faring only marginally better as the two played together on Thursday.
The Masters champion will need to pull further away from this year's Open winner if he is to take the top prize.