Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui shared the lead after day one of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai as Francesco Molinari tightened his grip on the European Tour's season-long crown.
Smith and Otaegui carded rounds of 66 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to sit at six under, one shot clear of defending champion Jon Rahm and Major Championship winner Danny Willett.
Italian Molinari knows a tie for fifth with one other or better will secure him the Race to Dubai title and he was just a shot further back after a 68 on the Earth Course.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood needs a victory at the eighth and final Rolex Series event of the season to have any chance of denying Molinari, and the Englishman was three shots off the lead after a 69.
English pair Ross Fisher and Matt Wallace, Chinese Li Haotong and Belgian Thomas Pieters were alongside Molinari at four under.
Englishman Smith came home in 30 - his lowest back nine ever on the European Tour - to surge up the leaderboard as he looks for a second win.
“I hit a lot of good shots on that front nine,” he said. "I just couldn't quite find the hole. I hit a lot of good putts, all burning the edge and then something clicked on that back nine and they started going in. I think you can just take a lot of confidence into the next few days.”
Otaegui has two wins on the European Tour but neither of them came in 72-hole stroke play and the Spaniard was bogey-free in his opening round.
"I played really well,” he said. “I was solid from tee-to-green. I left myself lots of birdie chances. I thought I putted well. Six birdies, no bogeys, it's always a very good start. It's more important to have a good finish, as well.”
Willett birdied the second but gave the shot back on the fourth before putting his approach to tap-in range on the sixth. Birdies on the eighth and tenth would follow and while he dropped a shot on the 13th, he picked it straight back up on the next.
Another birdie on the par-three 17th gave the 2016 Masters Tournament champion the lead but he was soon joined by Smith who produced a remarkable burst of scoring.
The 2017 Porsche European Open champion was level par after 12 holes with two birdies and two bogeys but then went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to jump out into the lead.
Willett hit back with a birdie on the last but Smith also took advantage of the par five and he led the way on his own.
Otaegui made a birdie-birdie start and then added another on the par-five seventh to turn in 33. Gains on the tenth and 14th had him within one and a stunning third into the last set up a closing birdie.
Rahm birdied the first, almost aced the par-three sixth and then made the most of the seventh. The Spaniard made an excellent par save from the bushes on the tenth and then holed a six-footer at the 12th and birdied the par-five 14th.
A nice pitch on the 15th helped hand him a share of the lead but he three-putted the next and found water on the 17th before recovering with a closing birdie.
Molinari holed from ten feet on the first, 15 feet on the fifth and hit a nice chip on the seventh before holing a chip for par on the next.
Putts from inside ten feet on the tenth and 11th and a birdie on the 14th put him in a share of top spot but he three-putted the 15th and last to slip back.
Fisher was bogey-free with gains on the tenth, 15th, 17th and last, while countryman Wallace birdied four of his last five holes.
Pieters made birdies on the first, third, seventh and eighth but dropped a shot on the ninth before bouncing back on the next. He dropped a shot on the 13th but regained it on the following par five, repeating the trick on the 17th and 18th.
Li made birdies on the first, second, tenth, 11th, 14th and last, with bogeys on the ninth and 12th.
Fleetwood was bogey-free but he battled for his score, making birdies on the par-five seventh, 14th and last to join a 12-strong group at three under that also contained four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy and reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed.