World number two Rory McIlroy enjoyed mixed fortunes as he tried to get his title defence back on track in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
McIlroy has won the European Tour's season-finale twice and never finished worse than 11th in seven appearances at Jumeirah Golf Estates, but struggled to an opening 75, his first over-par score in the event.
That meant a nine-shot deficit to overnight leader Lee Westwood and an early start on Friday alongside Ryder Cup partner Andy Sullivan, the man he edged out in a thrilling final round 12 months ago.
After a good birdie chance went begging on the first, McIlroy picked up a shot on the par-five second before carding a bogey on the fourth after his tee shot plugged in a greenside bunker.
A superb tee shot on the sixth set up a birdie from six feet and sparked McIlroy into life, the 27-year-old narrowly missing an eagle attempt on the par-five seventh and holing from 10 feet on the eighth to complete a hat-trick of birdies.
That took McIlroy back to level par for the tournament, but he bogeyed the ninth after driving into a fairway bunker to reach the turn in 34.
Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson was also among the early starters after a pedestrian 72 on Thursday, but the Open champion was quickly moving in the right direction with birdies on the third and fourth.
Stenson has a lead of 299,675 points over Masters champion Danny Willett in the battle to end the season as European number one, with Willett one under after a first round of 71.