Spain's Alejandro Canizares grabbed a one-shot lead after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship, but Race To Dubai leader Henrik Stenson lies just two back as he looks to add that to his FedEx Cup crown.
Canizares completed a six-under-par 66 at Jumeirah Golf Estates that proved enough to hold the first-round lead, with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Australian Marcus Fraser sharing second place after they both bogeyed the final hole to slip to five under.
Nine players can still finish as European No 1, but Stenson can take everyone out of the equation with a win and he certainly remained in top form with a four-under first round of 68 - only soured on the 18th as he missed a short putt for par.
Stenson was immaculate from tee to green throughout his round but that bogey six on the last saw him drop two shots behind the lead, although the Swede was not too disheartened by his finish.
"I played really solid, hit a lot of good putts but the greens are very quick and tough, I maybe lost a bit of focus on the last putt but overall I was happy with the way I played," said Stenson.
That slip saw Stenson share fourth place alongside Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Jamie Donaldson - with the Welshman in close order as he needs at least a second-placed finish to stand a chance of topping the money list.
Ian Poulter's eyes would have lit up after seeing Stenson drop that shot at the last, which meant he was just one stroke behind with his 69 after a mixed day on the lightning quick putting surfaces at the Earth Course.
"I'm a bit annoyed, I missed a good few putts today but I've got plenty left in the tank for the next few rounds so that's a positive," said Poulter, who if he wins in Dubai would force Stenson to finish second to stop him taking the crown.
"I'm playing as well as I've ever played I think, and I'm as confident as I've ever been so I'll just keep playing the way I have been playing of late - that's trying to birdie every hole."
Even the slight glimpse of a chink in the Stenson armour will also fire up playing partner on the day Justin Rose, who finished two shots behind him and four off the lead on two-under - the same mark as Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and last week's winner Victor Dubuisson.
Graeme McDowell is the only other golfer in the field that controls his own destiny, with a win meaning he would top the European money list, and he had to battle hard with three straight back-nine birdies only helping him to finish his round on level par.
Fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy had three birdies and two bogeys on an eventful front nine, before a quieter run home with just the one dropped shot on the last in his one-under round of 71.
"I feel like I played better than the score suggested and turned a 67 into a 71," said McIlroy, who won both money list titles in American and Europe last year but was down in 46th heading to Dubai this time around.
"I got off to a great start, was three under par through four and playing really nicely and then got on a run of pars on the back nine. I had chances at the 10th, 14th, 15th and 16th and I'm coming off the course disappointed but I know there is a good score out there."
The remaining three players who can still mathematically finish European No 1 are all still decently placed, with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano one one-under, Richard Sterne on two-under and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee even more in the mix at three-under.