Swede Johan Edfors set the pace at the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain with an eight under par 64.
The 35 year old newlywed leads by two from compatriot Peter Hanson, his Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari, England's Graeme Storm and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal.
Sergio Garcia is just one further back after a bogey-free start to his season and Paul Casey - the highest-ranked player in the field at ninth in the world - also shot 67.
Edfors, married last month, won three times in 2006, but has failed to add to his tally in more than 100 European Tour events since then.
However, he took advantage of the calmer early conditions with nine birdies, his only mistake coming on the short 16th.
After establishing the record mark for the new European Tour venue, he said: "My iron play was really superb and I had a bunch of chances from around 15 feet.
"I think I am a lot better player than five years ago, but the results have not really shown that.”
Storm missed the cut by one in Abu Dhabi, and said: "I've done a lot of gym work trying to get the body in the right shape to get the swing in the right place.
"When the EGU (English Golf Union) said you need to get fit I just laughed at them, but I wish I'd listened - I wouldn't be having the shoulder problem I've had because I'd be more flexible.
"The Tour physio guys are probably sick of the sight of me and I've only been out for a week."
Big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros also made nine birdies, but trips to the water on both the 18th and seventh cost him double bogeys and that added up to a five under 67.
Quiros was playing with Garcia and talented Italian teenager Matteo Manassero and they all finished on the same mark as Casey.
Casey matched the front-nine 31 by Edfors thanks to a closing eagle, and he stated: "The 258 yard five wood was the best swing I made all day.
"There were times when I wasn't sure I would shoot under par, so it was just a wonderful way to finish."
For Garcia, now down at 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking, it was his best score on The European Tour for just over 12 months.
He began 2010 with rounds of 66-67 in Abu Dhabi, but they proved a false dawn as he did not manage a top-three finish all year.
Manassero, still three months away from his 18th birthday, became The European Tour's youngest ever winner in Spain last October and his day was spoiled only by a missed 18 inch putt on the first.
Colin Montgomerie became a victim of his own course design at the 408 yard fifth, going from the desert into a hazard and running up a triple bogey seven in his 72.
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