Luke Donald fired a 7-under- par-65 on Thursday to grab the first-round lead at the season-ending DP World Championship, Dubai.
Rory McIlroy, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Marc Warren all shot 66 at the Greg Norman designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates to share second place.
The world No. 1 McIlroy has already locked up the season-long Race to Dubai, joining Donald as the only players to win the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists in the same season.
Donald, who moved to No. 2 in the world with a win at last week's Dunlop Phoenix, accomplished that feat just a year ago. He clinched it at this event with a third-place finish.
"I'm not sure I enjoyed it (at this event) last year," Donald said in a post- round interview with the Golf Channel. "It was quite pressure packed even though I had a bit of a lead. I felt Rory's presence behind me, but this week it's a little bit more relaxed. I'm just playing to try and win this tournament."
Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer is joined by Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Richie Ramsay and Fredrik Andersson Hed in fifth place at 5- under, while 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel highlights a group of 10 deadlocked at minus-4.
Branden Grace, a four-time winner on the European tour this season, is tied with six others at 3-under.
The top 60 players in the Race to Dubai qualified for this event, with the winner garnering $1.33 million of the $8 million purse -- up $500,000 from a year ago.
Donald has been solid coming off his stellar 2011 run, posting a victory at the BMW PGA Championship amongst his five European Tour top-10 finishes this season.
He carded seven birdies on Thursday without a bogey, and strung together back- to-back birdies three different times behind deft iron play approaching the greens.
"I had a stretch in the middle of the round where I felt like I couldn't miss," continued Donald. "It's fun to play golf when it feels that easy."
McIlroy, meanwhile, has been stellar this year, although he did miss the cut at last week's Hong Kong Open.
Reminiscent of last week's underwhelming performance, McIlroy got off to a pedestrian start on Thursday, picking up just one shot over his opening nine holes.
That changed on his outward nine, where he carded five birdies in seven holes through No. 16.
He parred the 17th and did the same on No. 18 despite taking a penalty due to an errant shot.
"It was nice to finish the day with no bogeys," said McIlroy. "I really didn't give myself many chances ... I made a couple of crucial up and downs, which kept the round going, and then I made a few putts on the back round and got it together."
NOTES: The top 60 players in the Race to Dubai qualified for this event ... Last year, Alvaro Quiros won for the second time in 2011 and sixth overall. He is not in the field this time around.