Shane Lowry opened with an impressive five-under 67, but Rory McIlroy faces a battle to make the cut after a "frustrating" day on the greens and a disappointing finish left him nine shots off the lead in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
As Lowry fired six birdies to share tenth in the clubhouse, four shots behind Scott Jamieson, McIlroy had 32 putts and bogeyed three of his last four holes to open with a level par 72.
The Holywood star was two strokes outside the top 65 and ties who will make the cut tomorrow, and with winds forecast to gust to 40mph for the afternoon starters, he faces a tough task to avoid starting the season with a missed cut for the second time in his career.
"It was a frustrating finish to a frustrating day," said McIlroy who followed a bogey at the sixth (his 15th) with a birdie at the seventh but then three-putted the eighth from 40 feet and dropped another shot after almost finding water with a three wood tee shot at the last.
"I actually felt like I hit the ball okay as I started off hitting some nice shots and I missed a few chances early.
"I struggled to read the greens, if anything, as I felt like I hit some good putts that just didn't go in and that putt on the last was the story of the day. I felt I had started it online with good speed and it just didn't do what I thought it was going to do.
"So, hopefully, I can start hitting good putts and they start to drop."
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy three-putted the par-five 11th for par, but then made a 12-footer for birdie at the 13th and a six-footer at the 14th to go two-under before dropping a shot at the par-five 18th, where he pulled his 234-yard approach into water.
He made a six-footer at the fifth to get back to two-under but pushed his tee shot into heavy rough at the sixth and dropped another shot before that poor finish.
"Overall, I had two bad drives on the last couple of holes, and apart from that, I felt like I hit the ball well off the tee, and I hit some good iron shots but just didn't have my scoring boots on," he said.
"I was a little bit rusty and a little inefficient with the scoring aspects of things, so yes, it's the first day of a new season and there is still a long way to go not just in the tournament but in the year ahead.
"It's going to be a windy day tomorrow, so we're not sure how the course will play, and yes, I would have liked to start better it's still a long way to go."
Lowry had an early three-putt par at the par-five second before quickly moving up a gear.
He knocked in a monster 44-footer at the fourth, two-putted for birdie at the seventh, then fired a wedge to six feet at the ninth to turn in three-under.
He then made it four birdies in five holes, hitting another wedge close at the 10th before holing a 15-footer at the 11th.
He would three-putt the 12th for bogey, missing a five-footer, but chipped in for birdie at the 15th to get back to five-under before finishing with three-pars.
The 2019 champion was tied for 10th in the clubhouse, four shots behind Scotland's Jamieson (38), who made nine birdies in a bogey-free, course record 63 to set the early pace.
The world No 336 held a one-stroke lead over Norwegian Ryder Cup star Viktor Hovland (24), who also made nine birdies in an eight-under 64, with
Belgium's Thomas Pieters was third after a seven-under 65 with Ian Poulter, Victor Perez, Tyrrell Hatton, James Morrison, Takumi Kanaya tied fourth after six-under 66s.
World No 2 Collin Morikawa struggled after making birdie at the first, running up a double-bogey at the par-three eighth after finding water from the tee before following a birdie at the 11th with a soft bogey at the short 17th for a one-over 73.
Former Ryder Cup skipper Pádraig Harrington had a bad day with the putter, taking 36 putts as he three-putted three times and mixed three birdies with four bogeys for a 73 that left him alongside Morikawa, tied for 92nd in the clubhouse on one-over.
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell was among the later starters and three-over through 15 holes.