Duba - Belgium's Thomas Pieters fired a five-under-par 67 in difficult conditions to grab a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
The former Ryder Cup winner rolled in eight birdies to set the early pace, despite a double-bogey on the first hole, having started on the 10th.
"I know I'm hitting the ball quite nice and I'm just looking forward to the next three days," said Pieters, who won his fourth European Tour title at the Czech Masters last year.
"It's always a bit scary starting out, you don't know what to expect even though you've put the work in - that competitive mindset sometimes takes a while to kick in. But I think today was one of my better rounds of the year."
American David Lipsky sits alone in second place after a four-under 68, but a host of big names appear ready to pounce.
Last year's winner Bryson DeChambeau carded a 70, while former major champions Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia all signed for one-under first rounds of 71.
It was a bad day for Lee Westwood, though, after the 46-year-old followed his impressive victory last week in the Abu Dhabi Championship by slumping to a six-over-par 78.
Leading and selected first-round scores from the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday (GBR & IRL unless stated/par 72/am denotes amateur):
67 - Thomas Pieters (BEL)
68 - David Lipsky (USA)
69 - Masahiro Kawamura (JPN), Shaun Norris (RSA), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Lucas Herbert (AUS), Wu Ashun (CHN), Matthieu Pavon (FRA), Eddie Pepperell, Robert Karlsson (SWE), Dean Burmester (RSA), Kalle Samooja (FIN), Romain Langasque (FRA)
70 - Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Romain Wattel (FRA), Erik van Rooyen (RSA), Sebastien Heisele (GER)
71 - Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Zander Lombard (RSA), Justin Harding (RSA), Viktor Hovland (NOR), Ian Poulter, Sebastian Soderberg (SWE), Jack Singh Brar, Julien Guerrier (FRA), Jayden Trey Schaper (RSA/am)
72 - Henrik Stenson (SWE), Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer (GER), Graeme McDowell
74 - Matthew Fitzpatrick
75 - Tommy Fleetwood
76 - Jazz Janewattananond (THA), Danny Willett, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)
77 - Matt Wallace
78 - Lee Westwood, Li Haotong (CHN)
81 - Shugo Imahira (JPN)