Dubai - Henrik Stenson enjoyed a near flawless opening day of the $8 million DP World Tour Championship on Thursday, marred only by a missed par putt from three feet on the final hole.
At the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates, the Swede shot a sublime four-under-par 68 to remain on course to become the new European No1, finishing as the best among the nine players in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai this week.
Stenson was just two shots off the early pace set by Spaniard Alejandro Canizares, while Australia's Marcus Fraser and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat were tied second at five under par after shooting rounds of 67.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson, second last week at the Turkish Open and one of eight players who can still overtake Stenson, was tied alongside the Swede and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello at 68.
Race to Dubai No2 Justin Rose of England opened with a 70, No3 Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland was on level par, while No4 Ian Poulter of England started with a 69.
Defending champion and former world No1 Rory McIlroy started with back-to-back birdies, but could not get any more after the seventh and finished at one-under-par 71.
All eyes were on the last two two-balls, comprising the four players in control of their own destiny, and it was Stenson who was the best on the opening day.
The 37-year-old, who is struggling with a wrist injury and needed to pull out of the pro-am on Tuesday to rest, missed just one green in regulation and hit 12 out of 14 fairways to sit five under after 17 holes.
He made his only mistake of the day at the par-5 last when he reached the green in three and then three-putted for his only bogey of the round.
Despite that, Stenson said: "I played really solid. I hit a lot of good shots, and a lot of good putts as well.
"You can't win tournaments on a Thursday, but you can certainly play your way out of them. So, I'm happy the way I'm playing and I would have taken a four-under.
"I will let that slight disappointment of the three-putt on the last disappear and then we'll look forward to tomorrow."
Poulter, who missed several chances in his 69, said: "I am annoyed. I holed two putts that were outside birdie range, and then missed most others. The greens are tricky to read and very quick.
"I am playing as good as I ever have, I am more confident than I ever have been and I am swinging better than I ever have.
"That's a good combination and I think I am in a great position just three behind the leaders."
Canizares, who won on only his third European Tour start in 2006 but has not won since, had just one bogey in his round of 66.
And the 30-year-old from Malaga revealed he faced a few issues getting into the United Arab Emirates for the tournament.
"My girlfriend, she's from the Czech Republic, and I always forget that she doesn't have a Spanish passport, so she needs a visa to get in," said Canizares.
"It was my fault, I forgot about it, and we got very, very lucky with the help of Nick Tarrat, the Tournament Director here, who helped a lot. We were very lucky in the end and they let us in. So it was a stressful moment, but it was fine in the end.
"I played very solid, didn't do anything extraordinary, but I holed some good putts. I missed some shots as well, but was pretty steady overall and am quite happy with the result."
69 - Ian Poulter (ENG), Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN), Thongchai Jaidee (THA)
70 - Justin Rose (ENG), Peter Hanson (SWE), Lee Westwood (ENG), Martin Kaymer (GER), Richard Sterne (RSA), Victor Dubuisson (FRA), Francesco Molinari (ITA)
71 - Eduardo de la Riva (ESP), David Lynn (ENG), Darren Fichardt (RSA), Rory McIlroy (NIR), Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL), Shane Lowry (IRE), Brett Rumford (AUS), Matteo Manassero (ITA), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (ESP), Thomas Bjorn (DEN)
72 - David Horsey (ENG), Jonas Blixt (SWE), Simon Khan (ENG), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Tommy Fleetwood (ENG), Bernd Wiesberger (AUT), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Mikko Ilonen (FIN), Peter Uihlein (USA), Graeme McDowell (NIR)
73 - Luke Donald (ENG), Craig Lee (SCO), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Chris Wood (ENG), Scott Jamieson (SCO), Joost Luiten (NED)
74 - George Coetzee (RSA), Julian Quesne (FRA), Marc Warren (SCO)
75 - Marcel Siem (GER), Paul Casey (ENG), Ross Fisher (ENG), David Howell (ENG)
76 - Garth Mulroy (RSA), Thomas Aiken (RSA), Branden Grace (RSA), Gregory Bourdy (FRA)
77 - Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Stephen Gallacher (SCO)
79 - Felipe Aguilar (CHI)