Denmark's Joachim B. Hansen fired a seven-under-par 65 to take the lead after the first day of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, while Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia and Viktor Hovland all made good starts.
Brandon Stone was the best placed of the South African contingent after he fired a 69.
World number 110 Hansen carded a bogey-free opening round to lead on seven-under, one shot clear of South African Justin Harding, who still has one hole to complete after play was suspended.
Hansen continued the good form he showed in the United Arab Emirates at the end of last season -- he won the Dubai Championship in November before a top-10 finish at the World Tour Championship.
"A bit of a shame there wasn't any more tournaments at the end of last year I but try to keep it going," he told europeantour.com.
"I'm a bit more relaxed, have a bit more belief in myself."
To claim a third Tour win, Hansen will have to hold off a strong chasing pack, with Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood among a five-strong group in the clubhouse at five-under.
Garcia avoided any dropped shots, while Fleetwood birdied the 18th to join his Ryder Cup teammate in signing for a 67.
"I still have a lot of things I want to achieve," said former Masters champion Garcia. "I want to get better, keep challenging myself to improve.
"It's never easy, and obviously as you get older, it's tougher."
Spain's Pablo Larrazabal, Italy's Andrea Pavan and 52-year-old Thai Thongchai Jaidee are the other players just two strokes off the lead after 18 holes.
World number two Morikawa is lurking menacingly at four-under as he bounced back from a disappointing performance when he finished tied-62nd in Abu Dhabi last week.
The British Open champion flew out of the blocks with a six-under 31 on the back nine, his first nine holes, before stumbling to post a 68.
"I'm trying to not worry about too much and just show up on the golf course, play golf and just know where my misses will be and I think that's the biggest thing," said Morikawa, last year's Race to Dubai winner.
Fifth-ranked Norwegian Hovland enjoyed a more steady day to sit alongside Morikawa, making three birdies and an eagle.
It was a slow day for Rory McIlroy, though, as the four-time major champion had to settle for a one-under 71.
Leading first-round scores from the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday (par 72; GBR & IRL unless stated):
65 - Joachim B. Hansen (DEN)
67 - Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Andrea Pavan (ITA), Tommy Fleetwood, Thongchai Jaidee (THA)
68 - Kalle Samooja (FIN), Collin Morikawa (USA), Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez (ESP), Brandon Stone (RSA), Viktor Hovland (NOR), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA)
69 - Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Joakim Lagergren (SWE), Scott Jamieson, Justin Walters (RSA), Sam Horsfield, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace, Richard Bland, Erik van Rooyen (RSA), Lee Westwood, Adam Scott (AUS), Maverick Antcliff (AUS)
70 - Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters (BEL), Padraig Harrington
71 - Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry
74 - Ian Poulter
Note: First round to be completed on Friday