Published Thursday, 31 October 2013
Rory McIlroy hits his second shot on the ninth hole during the first round. (© Getty)
McIlroy - the former world number one - shot a 7 under round of 65 to sit two shots of Jamie Donaldson and Gonzalo Fernandez Castano.
Graeme McDowell also began strongly - carding a round of 3 under par 69.
McIlroy won five times in 2012, including a second major title by eight shots, to finish top of the money lists on both side of the Atlantic - but has yet to taste victory in a tournament this season.
Down from first in the world rankings to sixth as a result, McIlroy sits 62nd on the European Tour's Race to Dubai.
He needs to reach the top 60 this week to have a chance of qualifying for the World Tour Championship in November.
The first prize of just over €1m would do that and more, and the Holywood player took confidence from his one-shot victory over Tiger Woods in their 18-hole exhibition match at Mission Hills on Monday, insisting he was more likely to win in Shanghai than miss out on a trip to Dubai.
McIlroy left a long birdie putt inches short on the par-three 17th but made no such mistake from four feet on the par-five 18th to reach the turn in 32, before another birdie on the first took the former world number one into a share of the lead on five under.
It was a timely display by the Northern Irishman, who was in need of a good performance to break into the top 60 to secure his spot in Dubai in a fortnight.
The Holywood man admitted it was "one of the best rounds" he has played this season.
"I shot 64 at Boston, so that was a good round of golf. But this is probably better just because it was a little trickier conditions. There was a bit of breeze and you've got to play good golf to shoot seven under around this place," he said.
"It felt good to be out there and be in control of my golf ball," added the World Number Six.
"I gave myself a lot of looks for birdies. It's a great start, but it's only 18 holes.
"It's only one round of golf, but it's definitely the way I wanted, and needed, to start this week, keeping in mind that I obviously want to play myself into Dubai and try to pick up my first win of the season, as well."
© UTV News