Luke Donald shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday to lead Rory McIlroy and two others by one stroke after the opening round of the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
Donald saved par on Nos. 1 and 4 with some precise putting and then some accurate up-and-down play helped him make four birdies in a stretch of six holes.
McIlroy, who has already clinched the European and PGA tour money titles, surged into contention with a string of three birdies on back nine. The PGA Championship winner could have matched Donald but his tee shot on the 18th went into a creek.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain and Marc Warren of Scotland are also at 6 under.
Lee Westwood and 2010 PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer are among six players on 5 under.