Alvaro Quiros, Stephen Dodd, Daniel Vancsik and Paul Lawrie shared a one stroke lead midway through the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The quartet set the first round pace at six under par with Middle East expert Louis Oosthuizen and fellow South African Thomas Aiken a further shot off the lead.
Todd Hamilton, Francesco Molinari, Steve Webster and Mark Foster all started strongly with opening rounds of 68 to sit two adrift with European Number One Lee Westwood in a group at three under par.
Former Open Championship winner Lawrie carded the only bogey free round of the leading quartet despite missing the cut at last week’s Joburg Open.
“I played nicely. I think it was important even missing the cut last week to get a tournament under my belt before coming over for the next three weeks. I think that helped today, although I played all right last week,” he said.
“Today I hit an awful lot of good shots and a lot of good iron shots, I drove the ball a bit poorly, but when I was in trouble, I hit nice iron shots to recover.”
Big-hitting Spaniard Quiros, who will defend his Commercialbank Qatar Masters title next week, made a storming finish to his first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club with three gains over his final three holes.
“I’m very happy because the score is good. I made some changes in the wintertime and it looks like they are working,” said Quiros, who is celebrating his 27th birthday.
“But it’s just the first round. It means nothing if I don’t play good the next three rounds so tomorrow is going to be a new day. I’m going to start from zero again.”
Westwood looked to be heading for a level par beginning to his season after struggling to shake of the rust following a six week winter break after his success in Dubai in November.
But after starting on the back nine of The National Course, he made his move up the leaderboard with a late hat-trick of birdies after chipping in on the sixth, holing from 20 feet at the seventh before converting from close range at the eighth after just missing an eagle chance.
“It was very rusty. I couldn’t really feel the finish to my swing, but chipped nicely and putted nicely and hung in there and reaped the rewards,” he said. “It’s pretty much what I expected. I figured I would have to chip around a bit, but you do when you’ve not played, even practised, for six weeks.”
On the course, Ian Poulter took a share of the lead when he turned in a bogey free 32 before adding further birdies at the tenth and 12th.
He still had five holes remaining to try and topple the clubhouse leaders, while Sweden’s Alexander Noren was also going well at five under through 14.