Luke Donald fired a superb 65 to lead after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship, but Rory McIlroy sits just a stroke back following a flawless 66.
On a day when the cream rose to the top in Dubai, it was in-form Donald who set the early pace as he picked up where he left off from his victory at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan last week.
But McIlroy found his form on the back nine, with five birdies in the space of seven holes catapulting him into contention.
The World No.1 finished the day one back on six-under alongside Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Marc Warren of Scotland.
A host of big names gravitated towards the top of the leaderboard with Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Padraig Harrington all posting 67s to put themselves within two of the lead.
Donald on song
Donald moved back up to second in the world rankings, ahead of Tiger Woods, with his victory in Japan and is seeking to match McIlroy's four wins this year.
The Englishman birdied the fifth, seventh and eighth to turn in 33, started for home with two more, made a 15-footer at the short 13th and only just missed an eagle attempt at the 626-yard 14th.
"I felt like I couldn't miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it's fun when it seems that easy," Donald said.
McIlroy, who has already matched Donald's achievement of winning the money-list title on both sides of the Atlantic this year, came alive after the turn as he birdied 10, 12, 14, 15 and 16.
The USPGA champion was particularly pleased with how he drove the ball and, even when he did make a mistake off the tee by finding water at 18, he duly recovered to escape with a par, ensuring he also kept a bogey off his card.