Luke Donald became the man to catch today after a sparkling seven-under-par start to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where Padraig Harrington was in buoyant mood.
The first event to feature all 12 of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes since their triumph in Chicago in September saw Donald post a 65 to lead by one from world number one Rory McIlroy, Scot Marc Warren and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
McIlroy, uncatchable at the top of the European Tour's money list, was only one under at the turn, then had five birdies in seven holes, but drove in the water on the par five last and had to settle for par there.
Harrington found the Greg Norman-designed Earth layout a fearsome opponent in practice earlier this week and he was delighted to tame the course once the action started for real to trail by two.
"I shot 67 doing handstands today," Harrington said. "Sometimes you do that when your expectations are low.
"You don't play like that every day and I'm not expecting to play like that for the rest of the week" - Padraig Harrington
"Today I wasn't very confident going into the tournament so anything was going to keep me happy out there and I'm pleased with the score."
The day started in the Emirate with a tropical downpour first thing in the morning and it was soon raining birdies for Harrington as he picked up six in his round plus a solitary bogey.
"It could have been numerous shots better," said the 41-year-old. "I missed an awful lot of chances. You don't play like that every day and I'm not expecting to play like that for the rest of the week."
Donald's purple patch came from the fifth to the 14th. All his seven birdies came in that stretch.
"I felt like I couldn't miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it's fun when it seems that easy," he said.
Donald moved back up to second in the rankings 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 - 20mms 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 Scottish Open in July, dropping four shots in the last four holes to lose by one just like Adam Scott at The Open 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.
The tournament is limited to the top 60 money winners on the circuit this year, but only 56 teed off.
Thomas Bjorn and Retief Goosen were out injured, Ross Fisher is preparing for next week's PGA Tour qualifying school in California and this morning Ireland's Shane Lowry withdrew after going down with a virus that even put him on a drip in hospital for a while.
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 alongside Harrington were 2009 winner Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Richie Ramsay, Louis Oosthuizen and Fredrik Andersson Hed, but Ian Poulter had to be content with a 72.