McIlroy posted seven birdies in round one, including birding the opening two holes, before ending with a bogey to be sharing sixth place with double Dubai defending Stephen Gallacher and five others.
Austrian Bernd Weisberger, third last week in Qatar, birdied five holes in succession near the end of his round in an eight under par 64 to lead by a stroke from four players including the England duo of Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan along with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts and American Peter Uhlein.
McIlroy continues to go low on the Majlis course and is now 63-under par in the 25 rounds he’s played on the UAE’s first golf course since teeing up on route to his first European Tour success in 2009.
“Compared to when I first won here in 2009 my golf game is much better and these sort of scores like I shot this morning just come a lot easier to me these days,” he said.
“So managing my game and knowing how to shoot a score is kind of second nature, whereas back then, 66 would have been a really good score for me but these days it’s sort of what I expect of myself.”
Of course, since 2009 McIlroy has yet to again taste victory and needed no reminding of his fourth second place finish a fortnight ago in nearby Abu Dhabi.
“Today’s round was pretty similar to how I started in Abu Dhabi as I didn’t hit a fairway to my eighth hole, but I scored well for those holes,” he said.
“So I can’t really complain with a 66 to start and I feel like I’ve started off this tournament pretty well the last few years, and it’s another good one and something to build on.”
Graeme McDowell was delighted to birdie his closing two holes in a round of 67 and his first for a new season, and also needing only 26 putts. “I didn’t hit a fairway to the eighth but then I hit some good shots over the back nine and a 67 is a good reward for my hard work over the off-season,” he said.
“So it took me to my second shot into the ninth before I felt comfortable and thankfully my short game over the first eight holes kept me in there.
“But until to you get a scorecard in your pocket it is usually hard to measure where you are at, so this also being the start to my 13th season you become better at clicking back into gear again and it thank goodness and allows you to have more of a break.”
Meantime, McIlroy said he was delighted to use his influence in the game to assist fellow Irishman Peter Lawrie secure an invitation, along with a Jumeriah Resort hotel room for the week.
“I wrote the tournament a letter as Peter asked me for a little help getting into the event given he had such a tough year last season,” said McIlroy.
“You try and do anything you can to help out your fellow players, and I guess my advice does not carry a little more weight that it used to, so I was delighted to help out Peter.
“And we saw how well Peter played last week in Qatar and then shooting a 66 on Sunday in the Abu Dhabi Invitational that there is now some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lawrie ended the day posting a one over par 73.