Rory McIlroy's much talked about new putting grip looked in good order on Thursday as he sat just three shots off the lead in the early stages of the World Golf Championships - Cadillac Championship.
The Northern Irishman had four birdies and two bogeys on his front nine to trail early leader Scott Piercy, with Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Danny Willett just a shot off the pace.
McIlroy and Willett were first and second on The Race to Dubai last season and led the European Tour charge at Trump National Doral, with all eyes on McIlroy in the marquee group with Jordan Speith and Jason Day.
But none of them could keep pace with American Piercy, who had five birdies on his front nine to set the early pace.
Willett began his campaign on the back nine and had just one fewer birdie, with gains on the 12th, 14th and 16th complementing a brilliant birdie on the notoriously tough 18th thanks to a curling 22-foot left-to-right putt.
American Charley Hoffman was then at three under with McIlroy in the group a shot further back alongside fellow European Tour Members Byeong-hun An, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Marcus Fraser and Andy Sullivan.
McIlroy changed his putting grip to left-below-right ahead of this week and took 16 strokes on the greens on his front nine after hitting seven greens in regulation.
Starting on the tenth, McIlroy left an 18-foot eagle putt short on his opener but made the birdie and had another two-putt for birdie on the par five 12th.
He missed the green on the par three 13th to drop a shot but rolled in a confident seven-footer for birdie on the 15th before leaving an effort inches short on the next after a brilliant approach.
There was never any danger of him not reaching the hole with his birdie putt at the 17th as he confidently rolled in a 15-footer to get to three under but then could not get up-and-down for par on the 18th.
Sullivan had three birdies in his first ten holes, while Fraser made a birdie-birdie start from the tenth. An had two gains in his first three holes and Aphibarnrat was at the same mark through four.
World Number One Spieth was also at two under at the turn with Day a further shot back.