Luke Donald (Getty Images)
Luke Donald, a winner in Japan last Sunday, became the man to catch again after a sparkling start to the lucrative DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
The first event to feature all 12 of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes since their triumph in Chicago in September saw Donald race to seven under par after just 14 holes.
He led The European Tour's final event of the season by one from Scot Marc Warren and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, while World Number One Rory McIlroy - uncatchable at the top of The Race to Dubai - stood two under after 11 holes.
Donald moved back up to second in the Official World Golf Ranking ahead of Tiger Woods by taking the Dunlop Phoenix title at the weekend and is seeking to match McIlroy's four wins this year.
He birdied the fifth, seventh and eighth to turn in 33, started for home with two more, made a 15 footer at the short 13th and only just missed an eagle attempt at the 626 yard 14th.
Warren is making his first appearance at the event since it moved to the Middle East in 2009 and his day began with a "mad rush" to find his waterproofs after stepping outside his hotel and seeing heavy rain – 20 millimetres of it in two hours - but it soon cleared up and he had perfect conditions for his round.
"There was no wind to speak of and the greens were pure. I felt as if I hit a lot of good golf," the former World Cup winner said.
His last victory was in 2007 and he blew a great chance at his home Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in July, dropping four shots in the last four holes to lose by one, just like Adam Scott at The Open Championship the following week.
"Winning is the most fun you can have at a golf tournament and it's something I want to do again soon," he added.
Fernandez-Castaño had all six of his birdies on the way in, and the BMW Italian Open winner was delighted that he was able to stay patient after nine consecutive pars on the front nine.
“The back nine had nothing to do with the front nine,” he said. “I played very well on front nine, believe it or not. I didn't hole any putts, but I stayed patient, and all of the putts seemed to drop on the back nine.
“It was worth the wait, that's for sure.”
The tournament is limited to the top 60 money-winners on the circuit this year, but only 56 teed off.
Thomas Björn and Retief Goosen were out injured, Ross Fisher withdrew earlier in the week, and Ireland's Shane Lowry pulled out after going down with a virus that even put him on a drip in hospital for a while.
The field were sent out in reverse Race to Dubai order, meaning McIlroy - with the Number One spot on both sides of the Atlantic already in the bag - was last out with Swede Peter Hanson.
The Northern Irishman got up and down from a bunker at the long second, but had to wait until the tenth green for his next birdie.
Sergio Garcia, returning after eye surgery to correct an astigmatism following the Ryder Cup, managed only a 73 and Ian Poulter was on the same one over mark after mixing four birdies with five bogeys in his first 12 holes.
Joint fourth with 67s were Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Richie Ramsay and Fredrik Andersson Hed, while Lee Westwood, winner on the Earth Course in 2009, stood three under after 15.
Donald parred the final four holes to set the target of 65, seven under, but McIlroy gave himself the chance to at least match it when he had five birdies in seven holes at the start of the back nine.
They took him to six under and joint second with Warren and Fernandez-Castaño, while Westwood was only one further behind.
Donald said: "I had a stretch where I felt like I couldn't miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it's fun when it seems that easy."