Rory McIlroy moved to within two shots of the DP World Tour Championship leaders after chipping in from the bunker at 18 to card an opening round 68 on Thursday.
McIlroy picked up shots at the second and sixth to start the tournament with a front-nine 34 and, although he bogeyed 10, there were birdies at the next two holes to keep him within touching distance.
A scrappy final hole looked to have slowed the world number three’s momentum, but he holed superbly from the sand to claim a fifth birdie of the day and cut the deficit.
“I knew I could get it close,” he said when asked about his final shot of the day. “It was a bonus to see it go in.
“I’m very close [to top form], I hit a lot of good shots on the course today but not as many as in my warm-up.
“My ball striking to the green has been good all year, with my putter sometimes holding me back, but I putted well today which bodes well for the next three days.”
He is joined on four under by playing partner – and closest Race to Dubai rival Danny Willett after he also birdied the last, the Englishman playing a sensational approach after a wayward tee shot.
Branden Grace another contender to finish top of the European Tour’s order of merit on Sunday also carded a 69 on the first day in Dubai, but all three men trail by two.
Five birdies in his opening six holes thrust Grace into contention at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, but a bogey at the 18th – having sent his tee shot into the water saw him slip back to four under par.
Martin Kaymer is one of four players at the top of the leaderboard after carding a 66 on Thursday, the quartet tied together on six under.
Alongside the German are Marcus Fraser, Andy Sullivan and Ian Poulter, the latter enjoying an error-free round with six birdies split equally between the front and back nine.
Francesco Molinari sits between the leaders and McIlroy’s eight-man group after a 67, with the Italian gathering momentum on the back nine to produce a solid round.