Australian Robert Allenby reduced the front nine holes of Doral's famous Blue Monster course to just 30 strokes - and left his rivals at the World Golf Championships-CA Championship green with envy.
Allenby sank a 114 yard pitch for an eagle two at the fifth and had four birdies to reach a brilliant six under par in the windy conditions.
That soon became seven under when he then got up and down from a greenside bunker at the tenth, leaving Allenby four clear of the best of the rest.
Going best of the 26-strong European contingent in the 68-man field was Italian Francesco Molinari, who at three under after nine shared second spot with South African Charl Schwartzel and Allenby's compatriot Geoff Ogilvy, winner on the course two years ago.
Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell had reached the same mark with birdies on the tenth, 12th and 14th, but recorded his first bogey three holes later.
Ross McGowan, runner-up to Lee Westwood at last November's Dubai World Championship, Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington all stood one under, while Poulter was one further back along with Mickelson and Yorkshire's Simon Dyson.
Poulter and Casey, of course, were the two finalists at last month’s WGC-World Match Play Championship in Tucson, but although Poulter is just the higher of the two at fifth on the rankings it is Casey who, like Westwood, could become closest challenger to Tiger Woods by winning on Sunday night.
Donald is back playing after his wife Diane gave birth to their first child - a girl named Elle - two weeks ago. The baby came a month early and weighed just over five pounds, but is now back at their home in Chicago.