Rory McIlroy is pleased after his first-round 66 leaves him one shot behind leader Luke Donald at the World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Lee Westwood and former Open champion Padraig Harrington are five under.
The final event of the European season, at the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course on the Jumeirah Golf Estates, is limited to the top 60 money-winners on the circuit this year, but only 56 were able to start.
Thomas Bjorn and Retief Goosen are injured, Ross Fisher is preparing for next week's PGA Tour qualifying school in California, and on Thursday morning Ireland's Shane Lowry withdrew because of a virus that briefly led to him being put him on a drip in hospital.
McIlroy recovered superbly from some tricky situations, notably at the 18th after his drive found the creek down the left of the fairway.
After laying up short of the green he played a majestic pitch and holed for a par, his 13th single putt of the round.
"I feel I drove the ball beautifully, with the exception of the 18th, and if I can continue to do that for the next three days I'll have a good chance," the 23-year-old said.
Also sharing second is Scotsman Marc Warren, who dropped four shots in four holes to finish one shot behind eventual winner Jeev Milkha Singh at this year's
Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
There can be no doubting Rory McIlroy's desire to finish the year on a high. The 23-year-old is determined to win and his appetite has not been diminished by the fact he has already wrapped up the Race to Dubai.
He faces the prospect of hunting down Luke Donald and the top two in the world fighting out the closing tournament would provide a fitting finale to an excellent year for European golf. Half of the victorious Ryder Cup team are within three strokes of the lead and this has the makings of a thrilling tournament.
The 31-year-old, whose last victory was in 2007, began his day with a "mad rush" to find his waterproofs after seeing 20mm of rain fall in two hours, but the rain soon gave way to clear blue skies and he had perfect conditions for his round.
"There was no wind to speak of and the greens were pure," he said.
Meanwhile Donald, who is planning an 11-week break from tournament golf after this event, made all seven of his birdies between the fifth and 14th holes, the latter a 626-yard par-five where his eagle putt brushed agonisingly past the cup.
"I felt like I couldn't miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it's fun when it seems that easy," he said. "I feel like I'm swinging it pretty well and have a lot more control of the golf ball. I need an extended period of time to solidify some things in my swing."
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