Cape Town - Shaun Norris and Renato Paratore fired rounds of 64 to share the lead after round one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, holding off a chasing pack including world No 1 Brooks Koepka.
Koepka was the centre of attention at the first Rolex Series event of the 2020 Race to Dubai, as he made his competitive comeback after a three-month injury lay-off, but his bogey-free round of 66 wasn't enough to match Norris and Paratore's eight under par efforts.
Italy's Paratore birdied his last four holes to take the lead as he chases his second European Tour win, after missing out in a play-off in his last start at the Mauritius Open.
He was joined at the summit by South African Norris, who has risen to 60th in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win, four second places and four other top tens in his last 14 events worldwide.
"It's been a rough year last year after losing my father but my brother is back on the bag again and feels like everything is working at moment. We are having a lot of fun out there, and that's the main thing. Really happy with what's happening," said Norris.
"Got my card in Asia about five years ago and started to play the Asian Tour and won an event which was co-sanctioned with the Japanese Tour and a good friend of mine told me, listen, take a membership up. The Tour is very good, and the courses are phenomenal and you'll learn a lot. Over the last four years, I think overall, my game has grown a lot. I've really learnt a lot out there. It's nice to be able to take it out and bring it out here."
Koepka and Australian Jason Scrivener are two shots off the lead, with Major Champion Sergio Garcia, fellow Spaniard and Rolex Series winner Rafa Cabrera Bello, American Kurt Kitayama, China's Li Haotong, South African Zander Lombard and Australia's Zach Murray one shot further back at five under par.
Leading and selected first-round scores from the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship at the par-72 Abu Dhabi Golf Club course on Thursday (GBR & IRL unless stated/am denotes amateur):
64 - Renato Paratore (ITA), Shaun Norris (RSA)
66 - Brooks Koepka (USA), Jason Scrivener (AUS)
67 - Sergio Garcia (ESP), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (ESP), Zach Murray (AUS), Zander Lombard (RSA), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Li Haotong (CHN)
68 - Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA), Martin Kaymer (GER), Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters (BEL), Branden Grace (RSA), Edoardo Molinari (ITA)
69 - Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Bernd Wiesberger (AUT), Andy Sullivan, Scott Hend (AUS), Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL), Lucas Herbert (AUS), Masahiro Kawamura (JPN), Haydn Porteus (RSA), Lin Yuxin (Am-CHN), Thomas Detry (BEL), Lee Westwood, Justin Harding (RSA), Robert Rock, Richard Bland, Andrew Johnston
70 - Ross Fisher, Shane Lowry, Romain Langasque (FRA), Victor Dubuisson (FRA), Sebastian Heisele (GER), Adri Arnaus (ESP), David Drysdale, Victor Perez (FRA), David Law, David Howell, Joost Luiten (NED), Mikko Korhonen (FIN), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Jack Singh Brar, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Matthew Southgate
71 - Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay (USA), Shubhankar Sharma (IND), Danny Willett
72 - Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Charl Schwartzel (RSA)
73 - Victor Hovland (NOR), Gavin Green (MAL), Matt Wallace, Eddie Pepperell, Ian Poulter
74 - Josh Hill (Am), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP)
76 - Padraig Harrington