Collin Morikawa remains on course to become the first American winner of the Race to Dubai following the opening day of the DP World Tour Championship.
The world No 2 shot six birdies and two bogeys in a four-under par round at Jumeirah Golf Estates. That put him in a group of 10 players tied for fifth, three shots behind the first-round leader Rory McIlroy.
Morikawa’s 68 was the lowest of the six players in contention for the Order of Merit crown this week.
Winning the season-ending tournament would guarantee Morikawa the title, but he could actually finish last and still top the standings.
For that to happen, his fellow American Billy Horschel would need to finish worse than a two-way tie for eighth, with the other four contenders failing to win around the Earth Course.
The English trio of Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Matt Fitzpatrick — the DP World Tour Championship holder — each carded opening rounds of 70, leaving them in a share of 20th.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee, the other player who could clinch the Race to Dubai with a win, signed for a level-par 72, while Horschel endured a tough first trip around the Earth Course.
The world No 21 carded a two-over par 74, leaving him 45th in the field. Only four players are worse off before the start of round two.
Morikawa, who was also in contention to become the first American Race to Dubai winner last year before eventually finishing fifth, was content enough with how his championship started.
“It was pretty solid throughout,” Morikawa said. “The two bogeys were a little unenforced but I made a few birdies out there and kept the momentum going. It was a good way to start the first round out here.
“I felt really good coming into the week with my irons. They showed up today on a few shots. I hit a couple good seven-irons and just need to keep doing that. That's my game. And when putts start to drop, we're close to the top of the leaderboard.”
Morikawa will start his second round at 11.45am on Friday, in a match with Nicolai Hojgaard, the 20-year-old Dane.
As the leader, McIlroy will be last out at 12.45pm. He will be playing with Tapio Pulkannen, the Finnish player who is making his debut at the DP World Tour Championship.