Hanson tied a Jumeirah Golf Estates course record with an eight-under 64 and leads by one after the opening 18 holes of the European Tour's season-closing event.
Coming off a third-place finish in Hong Kong and ranked 16th in the Race to Dubai, Hanson had eight birdies -- including six on the back nine -- to grab a one-stroke lead over early leader Paul Lawrie.
"It's one of the best rounds I've ever played, especially feeling-wise," Hanson said. "Everything seemed to be right."
The story of the week, however, centers around the final pairing of Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, ranked one and two both in the world rankings and Race to Dubai rankings. McIlroy needs to win this event to have any shot at overtaking Donald in the Race to Dubai, and he finished his opening round at six-under 66 to give himself a shot.
Donald, however, had a dreadful finish with three straight bogeys from the 14th in a round of even-par 72. He needs a ninth-place finish to win the money crown, but sits in a share of 26th at the moment.
Should Donald claim the money title -- still a very likely scenario -- he will become the first player to win it on the European and PGA Tours in the same year. He was close to securing that distinction last week before McIlroy managed to win the Hong Kong Open and keep his hopes alive.
Donald and McIlroy both figure to take home a good chunk of change this week regardless of the result, as the top 15 finishers in the Race to Dubai split a large bonus pool; the winner and runner-up will each take home over $1 million.
Early on, it looked as if Donald would create enough of a cushion that he could cruise to the money title. The world's top player recovered from an opening bogey to post three birdies in four holes, including a 25-footer at the third.
McIlroy, meanwhile, also had three birdies in the first five holes, but a double-bogey at the second left him one behind his playing partner.
On the eighth, Donald hit a seven-foot birdie putt, while McIlroy missed the green in regulation and settled for bogey to create a three-shot gap. On the back nine, however, the roles reversed.
McIlroy opened the final nine with a birdie at the 10th to get to one-under, and he birdied the par-three 13th to move to within one of Donald. For whatever reason, Donald's driver abandoned him at that point, and he hit drives into the bushes on both the 14th and 15th en route to consecutive bogeys.
Donald dropped to minus-one, while McIlroy birdied the 14th to move to three- under for the day.
It continued to get worse for at No. 16 for Donald, who hit his drive into a fairway bunker to lead to another bogey. McIlroy was able to run home a long birdie putt on the same hole to create a four-shot gap at four-under.
The reigning U.S. Open champ continued to put on a display and make his intentions known at No. 17 with a curling seven-foot birdie putt, his fourth in a five-hole span.
He landed in the rough with his tee shot on the last, but recovered to make a 15-footer for birdie and a round of 66. Donald parred the 18th to shoot a 72.
Hanson's front nine was solid, but unspectacular with only a pair of birdies and nary a bogey. On the back nine, though, Hanson looked like the player who contended last week in Hong Kong.
The four-time European Tour champ went six-under on the back nine, including birdies on each of the first four holes, and missed a short birdie putt at the 18th that would have given him the course record.
Lawrie, the 1999 British Open champ, also had a flawless round, and he and Hanson have a small cushion on McIlroy at the moment.
NOTES: Defending champion Robert Karlsson shot a one-over 73...This is the third time this event has been held. Lee Westwood, who also shot a 73, won the inaugural tournament...Ross Fisher, who shot a four-under 68, holed his approach at the par-four 15th for eagle. It was the only eagle all day...Y.E. Yang withdrew after four holes, reducing the field to 57 players.