Justin Rose (Getty Images)
World Number Five Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson fired five under par rounds of 67 to share the lead after an intriguing first day at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Donaldson and Rose outshone Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – the World Number One carding a 75 with his new Nike equipment and Woods beginning his season with a real mixed bag of a 72.
Rose marked his debut in the event with a holed bunker shot – Donaldson also chipped in from the sand - as they established a one stroke advantage over Dane Thorbjørn Olesen and Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal.
They would have been pleased with their position regardless of who was in the field, but to have the Official World Golf Ranking's top two players five and eight strokes back respectively made them enjoy dinner even more.
Donaldson beat McIlroy when he won his only European Tour title at the Irish Open last July, but Rose knows what it is like to beat both.
He did that twice last year, first in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami in March - Woods was already way out of contention when he withdrew injured on the final day - and then in the World Golf Final in Turkey in October.
What he most wants that they have a combined 16 of is a Major title, but by finishing last season with a course record 62 in Dubai - McIlroy beat him with five closing birdies - hopes are high for 2013.
He actually set off with a bogey, but by the time he made it from the sand beside the ninth green he was four under and getting up and down from another bunker at the long next took him alongside Donaldson.
After that it was pars all the way, although not always easily.
“I holed a very long putt on the fifth green,” said Rose. “It must have been 50, 60 feet, so clearly a bonus there. And the bunker shot on nine was not your standard bunker shot either, it was a very, very tough shot, probably one that you only up and down 50 per cent of the time. So to make it was an extra bonus for sure.
“I think if I'm completely honest, I didn't have it completely under control today with the long game. – it didn't feel perfect. I think it was the nature of the day, very difficult to hit every shot perfectly out there. I think it was the kind of day that you have to accept there were going to be some mistakes. I don't think you're going to get many clean rounds of golf out there.
“I think this that's the most important thing to realise; it's the nature of the golf course this week. It's set up very, very difficult - the fairways are narrow. Clearly with a lot of crosswinds, the fairways are hard to hit and the rough is punishing.
“I just tried to keep up and downing it, but accept that there are going to be some mistakes this week.”
Donaldson's maiden triumph at Royal Portrush six months ago in his 255th European Tour start helped to propel him into the sport's top 50 and the biggest reward for that is that he will make his Masters Tournament debut in April.
He has just been engaged in some banter with this week's defending champion Robert Rock by sending him a picture of his Augusta National invitation and asking if the Englishman had got his.
“I played pretty good in most of the round but there were times when it wasn't quite on, we made some good up and downs,” said the 37 year old. “It was a matter of scoring well and keeping the momentum going.”
Rock is back outside the top 100 as he was when he beat Woods head-to-head a year ago and will he be able to join his close friend if he makes it into the top 50 by the end of March.
His chances of that were not helped this afternoon when he signed for a 76.