Major champion Retief Goosen, a golfer of ice-cold nerves, opened up a one-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is in love with skiing, and Nick O'Hern after the first round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters on Thursday.
South Africa's Goosen, the world number eight, produced a stunning seven-under-par 65 on a testing afternoon at the impressive Doha Golf Club to lead cigar-chomping Spaniard Jiménez and left-hander O'Hern, who holed a 60 foot eagle putt on the last.
Asia's bid to produce a first winner at the 10th anniversary of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters was carried by talented Indian Shiv Kapur, who returned a 67 for fourth place while Korea's Suk Jong-yul, Singaporean Mardan Mamat, Thai teenager Chinarat Phadungsil and last year's UBS Order of Merit winner Shiv Kapur fired matching 69s to feature prominently on the star-studded leaderboard.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden overcame a stuttering start with two opening bogeys to shoot a 68, matched superbly by American Edward Michaels, playing in his first tournament after being sidelined by a shoulder injury for a year.
Three-time Major champion Ernie Els of South Africa, winner here in 2005, began his first tournament of the new season with a solid 69.
Goosen, a double US Open champion, was harbouring dreams of a new BMW, the prize on offer for bettering the course record of 63, when he made his third successive birdie on the 13th to move to six under par for the round.
"I thought I might be able to get to 10 under with chances coming in," said Goosen. "But when I missed birdies on the 14th and 15th I was just looking to shoot as low as I could."
As it was the South African birdied the short par four 16th after hitting the green and then two putting from 25 feet but another opportunity was squandered on the par five last.
Goosen recently teamed up with a coach, Gregor Jamieson, for the first time in nine years with the aim of getting his game back to where he feels it should be and then pushing to climb back into the top three in the world. A tied fifth finish last week in Abu Dhabi gave a hint that his game is not far away and he has carried that form into Qatar.
"Yes, I'm fairly happy with the way things are going at the moment. Last year wasn't that great, especially the last sort of seven months or so wasn't great at all. You know, I'm getting some good rounds under the belt now which is a good sign, so that means you're hitting a lot of good shots. Hopefully I can keep that up," said Goosen, who won the Volkswagen Masters-China on the Asian Tour last season.
Meanwhile, talk of snow and skis may seem incongruous in the desert but that was exactly what dominated proceedings as Jiménez reflected on a great start to the year which began with his second place last week in Abu Dhabi.
Rather than honing his skills on the range in preparation for a new campaign, Jiménez headed for the Sierra Nevada with his family and took to the slopes, although admitted he is still an amateur in skiing terms. "Handicap 36, or maybe 33 now," he quipped.
However, asked whether he got the greater rush from skiing or golf, the 43 year old was quick to stress that his heart was on the golf course.
"My life is golf and golf gives me everything," he said. "You cannot compare them. You play well and you win tournaments and that's what you are looking for. But I like skiing in my free time," added Jimenez, a 13-time winner in Europe.
His highlight was undoubtedly an impressive eagle on the 16th, his seventh, where his drive on the 307 yard hole finished just off the edge of the green and he duly holed out from 25 feet. That took him to four under par after earlier birdies on the 12th and 13th holes. Two more birdies coming home set the early pace.
O'Hern joined Jimenez on six under par 66 thanks to a storming finish to his round when the Australian followed a birdie on the 16th with his monster putt on the last.
India's Kapur, eighth on the UBS Order of Merit last year and embarking on his first full European Tour season, lies a further shot back after benefiting from a putting tip from his caddie and childhood friend Neeraj Sareen.
"Last week, I struck the ball solidly but couldn't putt. My caddie Neeraj then gave me some good advice yesterday and said to just putt like when I was 10 years old and I said yeah, you're right. He said I was such a good putter when I was a kid. He said I never concentrated on the stroke or line and just stood there and made everything. That seems to have worked today," said Kapur.
The Indian rising star was disappointed with his finish last week where he entered the final round just one off the pace but stumbled with a closing 75. But Kapur believes that he will benefit greatly from the experience and that a maiden European Tour triumph is around the corner.
"If you keep putting yourself in that position and if you keep knocking on the door, you'll learn from it. I took the positives out of it and played three solid rounds. I rather put myself in that position and drop out rather than be in the middle of the pack. If I can keep knocking, I'll keep learning from it and hopefully don't fall off on Sunday," he said.
Leading first round scores
65 - Retief Goosen (RSA)
66 - Miguel Angel Jiménez (ESP), Nick O'Hern (AUS)
67 - Shiv Kapur (IND)
68 - Edward Michaels (USA), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Richard Green (AUS), Nick Dougherty (ENG)
69 Suk Jong-yul (KOR), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Ariel Canete (ARG), Chinarat Phadungsil (THA), Ernie Els (RSA), Paul Lawrie (SCO), Yasin Ali (ENG), Andrew Coltart (SCO), Liang Wen-chong (CHN)
70 - Juvic Pagunsan (PHI), Kenneth Ferrie (ENG), Andres Romero (ARG), Alejandro Cañizares (ESP), David Bransdon (AUS), Peter Hanson (SWE), Stuart Appleby (AUS), Michael Campbell (NZL), Phillip Price (WAL), Scott Strange (AUS), Alvaro Quiros (ESP), Kane Webber (AUS), Emanuele Canonica (ITA), Barry Hume (SCO), Mahal Pearce (NZL), Robert Karlsson (SWE), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Chris Rodgers (ENG), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (ESP).