Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy sunk seven birdies in his last 10 holes to finish three shots off the lead on day one of the Dubai Desert Classic.
The world number two trails Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who shot a nine-under-par 63 to set the early pace.
Scotland's Scott Jamieson returned to form with an impressive 65 to share second place with German Marcel Siem.
"After a slow start seven under for the last 10 holes was pretty nice," said McIlroy on his Twitter account.
"Need to keep it going early tomorrow morning."
Cabrera-Bello was already nine under par when McIlroy teed off at the course where he won his first professional title three years ago.
The US Open champion made a slow start in his pursuit, three-putting from four feet to bogey the seventh, leaving him behind in the chasing pack on one over after eight.
But a birdie three on the difficult ninth proved to be the turning point as McIlroy carded 31 on his way back to the clubhouse.
"Seeing nine under on the leaderboard is tough," said the 22-year-old.
"You just have to stay patient, bide your time and create opportunities, but not force it.
"I think I've matured as a golfer and I knew the back nine was definitely more scoreable."
World number four Martin Kaymer matched McIlroy's 66 after five birdies and a closing eagle in a back-nine rally of his own.
He shot a nine-under-par 63 but missed the opportunity to card the European Tour's first sub-60 round.
Cabrera-Bello, 27, equalled the European Tour record with a final-round 60 in the 2009 Austrian Open and had the opportunity to card the circuit's first 59 firmly in his sights.
He holed nine birdies by the 12th but was forced to settle for seven pars in the run-in.
Jamieson, 28, had five top-six finishes in his rookie season on Tour last year but has made only one of his last nine cuts.