(CNN) -- World No. 3 Rory McIlroy eclipsed illustrious playing partners Luke Donald and Tiger Woods as he took a share of the lead after the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The 2011 U.S. Open champion shot a five-under-par 67 to join Sweden's Robert Karlsson at the top of the leaderboard.
McIlroy's fellow Northern Irishman Gareth Maybin was on four under, alongside England's Richard Finch and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet of France.
Woods couldn't keep pace with his 22-year-old playing partner, but was only three shots off the lead despite struggling on the greens, while world No. 1 Donald finished on one under.
McIlroy didn't enjoy his cleanest day of hitting but still scrambled well to record an impressive score in his first competitive tournament since recovering from suspected Dengue fever.
"It was a good score and a great way to start 2012, but I don't feel I drove the ball particularly well and it's something I've got to work on," he told the European Tour's official website.
"It was nothing that a good practice session won't fix."
McIlroy has recorded two top-three finishes in the past two seasons at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club but couldn't get past German Martin Kaymer, who has won back-to-back titles.
He said of the course: "I feel it suits me really well. Just one problem -- it suits Martin Kaymer even better."
Kaymer, though, toiled during the opening round of his defense, shooting a five-over 77 to sit 10 shots off the leaders.
Woods enjoyed a bogey-free round with one birdie on the front nine and one on the back nine.
"I just had a hard time getting a feel for these greens. It was difficult and my speed was off," the American said after his first competitive round of 2012.
Donald also recorded two birdies but bogeyed the seventh hole to sit a shot behind Woods. He admitted he'd enjoyed battling it out in such a star-studded group.
"It was fun to be part of that threesome -- Tiger and Rory are huge names in the world of sport. Rory took advantage of a few more opportunities. I didn't make too many putts," Donald said.
South Africa's Masters champion Charl Schwartzel was on two under, while world No. 2 Lee Westwood and 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell both sat on level par.