(CNN) -- U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell made a solid start to the penultimate event of the European Tour season on Thursday as he bids to cut the gap on money-list leader Martin Kaymer.
The Northern Irishman, second in the Race To Dubai standings, shot five-under-par 65 to be three shots off the lead after the opening round of the Hong Kong Open.
McDowell, who trails Ryder Cup teammate Kaymer by €367,600 ($500,000) ahead of next week's Dubai World Championship, carded six birdies before finishing with a bogey to be tied for sixth.
With €301,466 to be taken home by the winner, and €200,962 for the runner-up, McDowell -- who has earned €2,916,330 ($4 million) this year -- has every incentive to do well in the German's absence.
New Zealand's Mark Brown, seeking his second European Tour title, set the early pace with a flawless eight-birdie 62 to be one shot ahead of Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and India's Jeev Milkha Singh.
McIlroy, last year's runner-up in the Race To Dubai and 13th this season after deciding to focus on the U.S. PGA Tour, is seeking his first win on the circuit in 18 months.
The 21-year-old, sporting dyed-blonde hair, carded six birdies after starting on the back nine, then bounced back from a bogey at the sixth with two birdies in his last three holes.
"My girlfriend was very much against it," he told the UK Press Association of his new hairstyle. "But it was just something I want to do.
"When you get back to Northern Ireland on a cold November day, you do get quite bored, and it is something different I thought I'd try."
The 38-year-old Singh, seeking his fourth European Tour win after a two-year title drought, birdied six of his last eight holes having teed off on the front nine.
Simon Dyson was tied for fourth on 64 with Denmark's Soren Hansen, with the Englishman boosted by a hole-in-one at the par-three 12th -- his third hole of the day.
McDowell was in a group of six players, with another 11 on 66 including defending champion Gregory Bourdy of France, who closed with a bogey.
The 35-year-old Brown, who is 107th in the standings with earnings of €231,567, is seeking to follow up his 2008 victory at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand.
"I have a good mate on the bag this week. I grew up with him at my home course in New Zealand and it has sort of got me back to a few of the things I used to do when I was younger swing-wise. It seems to be working so I will stick with those things," he told the European Tour website