World number three Retief Goosen is the big name in a three-way tie for the lead after the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Benign conditions and a course which is playing easier than in the past saw scores plummet – and the South African, along with Wales’ Jamie Donaldson and Richard Green, of Australia, profited after ting an eight-under round of 64.
The trio hold a two-stroke lead over Englishman David Lynn, who has started the new year in fine form, and Scotland’s Ross Bain.
But Bain’s compatriot Colin Montgomerie played like a man whose mind was on the purported £15m (€22m) divorce from former wife Eimear which came through earlier in the week.
The 1996 Dubai winner was all at sea on his opening nine holes, bogeying three times and then taking a double bogey at the 14th.
It was to his credit that the 42-year-old salvaged some respectability with four birdies in his last nine.
Tiger Woods’ heavyweight showdown with Europe’s most in-form golfer, Henrik Stenson, lived up to its billing as both traded blows to end tied at five under.
The world number one raced out of the blocks and found himself at three under after four holes but bogeyed the 10th and lost momentum thereafter.
His Swedish rival was more slowly away, dropping his only shot at the fourth, but an eagle and two birdies followed at the start of his back nine.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke quietly and efficiently went about his business, finishing with a four under par 68.
The leaders made hay while the sun shone on a course where the rough is shorter than in previous years, and smooth greens have allowed for a host of birdie chances.
Goosen made six birdies and an eagle, and Green made eight. But it was Donaldson’s back nine that propelled him into contention.
A solitary birdie at the turn was followed by a brilliant series of putts, a birdie at the 11th leading on to six straight birdies by the 18th.
Lynn was steady, not dropping a shot and collecting eight birdies on his way to his 66 – and Bain finished with a flourish, posting a birdie and then an eagle at the last.
The pair are a shot clear of Woods, Stenson, Sweden’s Niclas Fasth, Australian Nick O’Hern and English pair Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty.
Just behind them is a group containing Lee Westwood, who appeared more at ease having missed the cut at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters last week.
Also in there is defending Dubai champion Ernie Els, looking to set a new European Tour record of 70 successive cuts made.
The South African is well-placed to do so after an unfussy round of 68.
Meanwhile, Ian Poulter – who went round in a level par 72 – sported a polo shirt carrying the Arsenal logo, having avoided a fine for wearing the north Londoners’ match-day shirt during a round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago.
Ireland's Peter Lawrie has finished today on -3, while Damien McGrane went one better with a -4 finish. Gary Murphy has finished on two over.