Doha - Veteran Paul Lawrie took a major step towards becoming the first person ever to win three Qatar Masters titles after a scintillating round of 66 secured a one-shot lead in windy conditions on Thursday.
The Scot, who won in Doha in 1999 and 2012, posted six birdies, including two in his first three holes, to finish on 11 under.
But on a day of low scoring, players were bunching behind the 1999 British Open champion, promising an exciting finish for the final two rounds.
Hot on his heels is Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts who followed up an opening round of 66 with a 68, to end on 10 under.
Lawrie is two ahead of three players on nine under, including Andrew Johnston of England who shot a 69 and France's Gregory Bourdy, whose round included a hole-in-one at the par three 8th.
One shot further back, on eight under, stands Sergio Garcia.
The 2013 Qatar Masters champion, like Lawrie, also shot a 66.
Afterwards, the Aberdonian said he had enjoyed himself.
"I played nicely tee-to-grew, hit a lot of good shots," said the 47-year-old.
"Only made one mistake which was a three-putt from 20 feet at 15."
He added: "I controlled the flight of the ball pretty well, which is what you have got to do when it's windy."
Lawrie also revealed he had been working on his putting since missing the cut last week at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
In potential omens, on both occasions that Lawrie has won the Qatar Masters he has gone on to feature in the Ryder Cup in the same year. The Ryder Cup will take place in Hazleton in the US between September and October this year.
Lawrie also hit six birdies on the opening day, but was still five shots off the course record 61 set by Adam Scott in 2008.
Course officials had moved the tees forward because of anticipated high winds, but although conditions were again blustery, they were far from unplayable.
"This morning the wind was not blowing so hard," said Bourdy, one of the earlier starters. "I think it is a good score, especially the hole-in-one, I'm very pleased about that."
Defending champion Branden Grace from South Africa is handily placed on seven under par, after shooting 67.
A shot further back are his fellow South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els.
Oosthuizen, one of the pre-tournament favourites, lost touch with the leaders after shooting a disappointing one-over-par 73, in a round that included three bogeys.
The cut was set at one under and more than 70 players qualified for the final two rounds on Friday and Saturday, when conditions are expected to be even windier.
Among those to miss out was the 2014 Ryder Cup winning captain, Paul McGinley, who finished on one over.