Dubai - Swede Peter Hanson and Briton Paul Lawrie parried the punches of the European Tour's heavyweights to lead the way after the Dubai World Championship first round on Thursday.
While Rory McIlroy (66) seized the early initiative against money-list leader Luke Donald (72) in their fight to end the season as Europe's No 1 golfer, Hanson fired a record-equalling 64 at the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.
Lawrie produced the sort of display that earned him victory at the 1999 British Open as he tucked into second place on 65, one ahead of McIlroy and two in front of Spain's Sergio Garcia.
Hanson, a member of the triumphant 2010 Ryder Cup team, was bursting with pride after his round.
"I think it's the best golf I've ever played," he told reporters. "It is quite a demanding course and the wind picked up a little over the back nine so I am very happy with the way I struck the ball and rolled a few putts in.
"My ball-striking was very pure. I gave myself a lot of chances and my first five birdies were tap-ins which was nice."
Hanson started his round quietly but a sequence of six birdies in eight holes from the 10th separated him from the rest of the elite, 57-man field.
The 34-year-old spurned a good chance to eclipse the course record held by Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher.
"I chipped it up to about six feet at the last and missed my birdie putt," said Hanson, "but I had no idea about the record.
"It was a really hard putt, it broke hard off the right. I tried to drop it in from there and it went just a little too hard."
Veteran Lawrie ended a barren run of nine years without a victory when he captured the Andalucia Open title in March and said he still believed he was capable of improving as a player.
"I probably hit more balls and work harder at my game than I ever did," said the Scot. "I'm only 42 and have got a long time to go.
"If you want to get better you have to put the time in and I've been doing that. I want to be back in the top 50 of the rankings," said world No 163 Lawrie.
McIlroy put together a stunning run of scores to climb the leaderboard, roaring home in 30 strokes thanks to five birdies in the last six holes.
"That back nine was pretty much flawless and I holed some really nice putts," said the world No 2. "I just kept giving myself birdie chances and luckily enough I was able to take a few.
"It was a perfect start to the tournament for me. To shoot a great score like that sets me up nicely for the next three days."
US PGA Tour money-list winner Donald is bidding to become the first player to land the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic.
He has a lead of $1.06 million over second-placed McIlroy at the top of the money list and needs to finish in the top eight here to guarantee he ends the season as Europe's No 1.
"Rory had a great back nine," said world No 1 Donald. "He was holing putts from everywhere.
"I cannot really concentrate on what he is doing though. I've got to take care of my own business."
Garcia, winner of back-to-back tournaments in Spain in October, was content with his round, especially as the Earth course is not to his liking.
"I am not going to lie...it's not one of my favourites," said the Spaniard. "But it's always in good shape so that makes it fun and we usually get great weather."
South Korean Yang Yong-eun, the 2009 US PGA champion, pulled out after four holes because of a shoulder injury.
This week's tournament offers a prize fund of $7.5 million plus an additional bonus pool of $7.5 million to be distributed among the leading 15 players in the final order of merit.
Leading first-round scores in the $7.5million Dubai World Championship on Thursday at the par-72 Earth Course of Jumeirah Golf Estate:
64 - Peter Hanson (SWE)
65 - Paul Lawrie (SCO)
66 - Rory McIlroy (NIR)
67 - Sergio Garcia (ESP)
68 - Ross Fisher (ENG), Robert Rock (ENG), Alvaro Quiros (ESP)
69 - Jaco van Zyl (RSA), Shane Lowry (IRL), David Horsey (ENG), David Lynn (ENG), Thomas Aiken (RSA), Charl Schwartzel (RSA)
70 - Hennie Otto (RSA), Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Thomas Levet (FRA), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Felipe Aguilar (CHI), Golzalo Fernandez-Castano (ESP), Alexander Noren (SWE)
71 - Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Francesco Molinari (ITA), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP)
72 - Scott Jameson (SCO), Lorenzo Gagli (ITA), Johan Edfors (SWE), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (ESP), Paul Casey (ENG), Gregory Havret (FRA), Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL)
73 - Robert Karlsson (SWE) 38-35, Martin Kaymer (GER), Lee Westwood (ENG), Thomas Bjorn (DEN), Ian Poulter (ENG), Rhys Davies (WAL)