Rory McIlroy may not be a factor in the battle to end the year as European number one, but the two-time Major winner was out to make himself a factor in the DP World Tour Championship today.
McIlroy topped the money list on both sides of the Atlantic last year, collecting five victories including his second Major by eight shots in the US PGA Championship.
The 24-year-old's struggles on and off the course this season have been well documented however, leaving him a lowly 46th in the Race to Dubai entering the season finale in Dubai, an event he won thanks to five birdies in the last five holes 12 months ago.
With the 56-man field playing in Race to Dubai order, McIlroy was among the early starters on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates and got off to an excellent start, holing from 30 feet for a birdie at the first and two-putting the par-five second for another.
The Northern Irishman also picked up a shot on the fourth before a poor chip from over the back of the fifth green led to a bogey five, but he soon made amends with a birdie on the par-five seventh.
A duffed chip to the eighth after a wayward approach cost McIlroy a second bogey and left him two under par at the turn, two shots off the early pace being set by Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Cabrera-Bello had birdied the second, fourth, fifth and sixth to be out in 32 and at four under held a one-shot lead over compatriot Alejandro Canizares, Australia's Marcus Fraser and England's David Lynn.
Sweden's Henrik Stenson, US Open champion Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell can all make certain of winning the Race to Dubai with a victory here on Sunday, while the top nine in the current standings all have a chance of finishing top of the rankings depending on various scenarios.
A run of five straight pars on the back nine left McIlroy on two under par and now four off the pace being set by Canizares, who had carded a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th.
At six-under he led by one from Cabrera-Bello and Fraser - who were playing in the same group - with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat a shot further back on four under.
Former world number one Luke Donald, who only scraped into the field at 59th on the money list, had completed a disappointing 73 after dropping three shots in his last seven holes.