Ricardo Santos of Portugal, fourth in Abu Dhabi last week, shot a seven-under-par 65 to take the first-round lead at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which teed off on a Wednesday for the first time.
Anthony Wall of England, Peter Whiteford of Scotland and Alexandre Kaleka of France all shot 66 to share second, one shot ahead of a six-strong group on 67 at Doha Golf Club, where Manchester United legends Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were among the spectators.
World Number Four Justin Rose and Ryder Cup teammates Martin Kaymer and Peter Hanson each started with a 68 to lie in a share of 11th with 10 other players.
Sergio Garcia, fifth last year, signed for a 69, while playing partners Paul Lawrie, the defending champion, and reigning Open Champion Ernie Els both opened with even-par rounds of 72.
World Number Five Louis Oosthuizen, who played with Rose and Kaymer, double-bogeyed the last to finish with a 71, tied with the likes of American star Jason Dufner.
Instead of the many star players, it was Santos who grabbed all the attention at the top of the leaderboard. The 30-year-old, last year’s Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, continued his fine form from Abu Dhabi as he started from hole 10 with three birdies and a bogey on the back nine before adding five more birdies on the front nine.
"It's really nice when you start a tournament like that, on the top of the leaderboard. My short game was really amazing, especially the putting, so I'm really happy," said Santos, who won last year’s Madeira Islands Open in his native Portugal.
"Last week in Abu Dhabi was amazing for me and gave me a lot of confidence to come here to Qatar and continue to improve my game.
"Winning Rookie of the Year gave me a lot of confidence. I think it’s normal that when you play good the season before that you come to the next season with a different spirit."
Rose, the highest-ranked player in the field, birdied the par-five 18th under the gaze of a large group of Manchester United players, while playing partner Kaymer bogeyed the hole to also finish four-under.
Rose is following up a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi, where he led for the first three days, and the tall Englishman started his campaign in Doha with three birdies and a bogey on the front nine.
He picked up further shots on 10 and 12 but conceded a bogey on the par-three 17th after calling a penalty shot on himself before responding with a fine birdie on the par-five 18th.
"It was really nice to finish the way I did, with two really good swings at the last, which is a nice way to get over 17," said Rose, whose ball moved on the 17th green at the same time as he addressed it. "Nobody else in the group saw it, but that's the good thing about golf, it’s self‑police out there."
Kaymer’s front nine featured eight pars and an eagle on the 413-yard par-four fourth, and he added birdies on 12, 15 and 16 before closing with a bogey.
"I got lucky with my eagle. I hit my tee shot in the first cut on the right and had a perfect yardage, so I pitched pretty much straight at the hole and it landed six, seven yards in front, hit the flag and went in, so that was quite a nice start," said Kaymer, who famously holed the putt that ensured Europe retained last year’s Ryder Cup at Medin.
"You would think that would kick-start a round, but then I used the handbrake a little bit and it was very difficult to make putts. I just kept making pars and it was okay. I hit the ball a lot better than last week."