Rory McIlroy outshone playing partners Tiger Woods and Luke Donald with a five-under-par 67 which earned him a share of the first-round lead at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The 22-year-old US Open champion ended the opening day at the top of the leaderboard alongside Swede Robert Karlsson thanks to a chip-in birdie on his penultimate hole, while Woods shot a bogey-free 70 and world number one Donald a 71.
McIlroy's ball-striking was not at its best, but like Karlsson he scrambled brilliantly in his first tournament since recovering from suspected Dengue fever.
Woods was playing his first event since ending more than two years without a victory at his Chevron World Challenge event last month and produced a highly consistent display hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
But the 14-time major winner did not make the most of his chances and collected birdies only at the 11th - his second hole of the day - and the short fourth, where he almost holed in one.
Donald, meanwhile, followed eight opening pars with back-to-back birdies, but could not save par from the sand on the 200-yard seventh.
Hat-trick of birdies
McIlroy had thrown down the gauntlet with a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th, holing from nine, 12 and three feet.
Then came bogeys at the 14th and 17th, but he added another birdie on the long 18th despite his wild second shot hitting the hospitality tent.
A superb pitch from the rough to three feet at the 600-yard second took him to three-under and, after he took advantage of a wonderful tee-shot at the short seventh, then came the added bonus at the par-five eighth after he had twice been in the rough and just missed the green.
He and Karlsson, who also relied on his short game and hot putter more than he would have liked, were a stroke ahead of McIlroy's fellow Northern Irishman Gareth Maybin, England's Richard Finch and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet of France who posted 68s.
"It was a good score and a great way to start 2012, but I don't feel I drove the ball particularly well and it's something I've got to work on," McIlroy said afterwards.
"It was nothing that a good practice session won't fix."
The Northern Irish youngster has finished fifth, third and second on the course the last three years and added: "I feel it suits me really well. Just one problem - it suits Martin Kaymer even better."
However, the German world number four, winner three of the last four years, already faces a mammoth task if he is to retain his crown having opened with a hugely disappointing 77 that left him ten shots adrift of McIlroy.
Awful start for Kaymer
Heading into the tournament, Kaymer was a total of 80-under for his last 16 rounds at the venue but, playing alongside Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, endured a day to forget.
A double-bogey at the first set the tone and the 27-year-old went on to rack up a further four bogeys - including one at the last after missing from three feet.
Westwood (72) twice found himself at two-over, but responded with a fine back-nine to get himself to level-par - and it could have been much better for the Englishman had he not seen three putts lip out.
Playing partner Garcia looked to have provided the undoubted highlight of the day as he made the first hole-in-one of his professional career at the par-three 12th during his round of 71.
But amazingly compatriot Jose Manuel Lara (70) later emulated his feat at the very same hole as he finished at two-under alongside Woods and the likes of Paul Lawrie, Liang Wen-chong and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
"I just had a hard time getting a feel for these greens. It was difficult and my speed was off," said Woods of his efforts afterwards.
For his part, Donald added: "It was fun to be part of that threesome - Tiger and Rory are huge names in the world of sport.
"Rory took advantage of a few more opportunities. I didn't make too many putts."