Ian Poulter made the ideal start in his bid for a first win in three years as defending champion Henrik Stenson surprisingly found himself at the wrong end of the leaderboard in the ?5.2million DP World Tour Championship.
A flawless 66 gave Poulter a share of the clubhouse lead on six under par alongside Ryder Cup team-mate Martin Kaymer, England's Andy Sullivan and Australian Marcus Fraser.
But world number six Stenson slumped to an opening 77, his worst score in 21 rounds in this event, which left him joint last on five over par and facing a monumental task to claim a hat-trick of wins in the European Tour's season finale.
Poulter started the week a lowly 37th in the Race to Dubai - his lowest ever finish is 31st as a rookie in 2000 - and admitted he needs to get back to winning ways after last tasting victory in the HSBC Champions in 2012.
"There's a lot at stake," the 39-year-old said. "I think more of it is probably pride than anything else. Dropping outside the top 50 (in the world) isn't very nice. Being down list on the Order of Merit is not very nice. And wanting to put some points on the board for Ryder Cup would definitely be very helpful."
Poulter has been struggling with a foot injury recently and admitted he was looking forward to 10 weeks off before starting his 2016 campaign.
" I had an impingement for three weeks and I was kind of getting sick of taking painkillers so I went and had a cortisone injection in the foot," he added. "That's why I didn't play on Tuesday. I t's still a little sore this morning. Back's a little sore. Hand's a little sore. That's what you get when you play five weeks in a row.
"I might have a little bone spur which is causing a little bit of irritation. I 'll have an MRI when I get home. Hopefully it's nothing too serious, just normal wear and tear and hopefully it will just settle down with a little bit of rest."
Playing partners Kaymer and Sullivan carded matching rounds of 66, with Sullivan's birdie on the 18th drawing a massive cheer from his personal fan club.
Sullivan, who is the only three-time winner on the European Tour this season, was being roared on by 30 members of his golf club in Nuneaton and said: "Every putt that went in they were really cheering and it's a big plus.
"They've been to Wentworth, Woburn and Portugal this year and have been planning this trip since the middle of the year, dying to get out of the cold at home."
With the players going out in reverse order according to their positions on the Race to Dubai, the top two of Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett were the last to tee off and were locked together on three under with four holes to play.
McIlroy had the money list title wrapped up with an event to spare last year after four victories, including major titles in the Open at Royal Liverpool and US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
But after an injury-hit campaign which meant he was unable to defend his Open title at St Andrews and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the 26-year-old came into Dubai leading Willett by just 1,613 points.