He is currently in a tie for sixth, just three shots off the lead, tied for fellow playing competitor Rickie Fowler.
Stuck at even par for the day, McIlroy’s tee shot on the par-4 third found the thick rough on the edge of a fairway bunker. Forced to play with one leg in the trap and the other outside it, the world No. 1 hooded his iron and played a 95-yard shot to about 12 feet.
He made the putt, then rolled in four more birdies in his next six holes to begin his year on a high note.
“From looking like going 1 over to finishing 5 under,” he said, “I’m very happy.”
Fowler was much sharper on Day 1, at least until his final hole. The 26-year-old was 6 under for the day heading into the last but flew his approach over the green, misjudged his flop shot and walked off with a closing bogey. It was his first competitive round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
McIlroy didn’t touch a club after a busy late-season run, but he headed to the desert last week and began his 2015 prep.
“To shoot 67 on the first round of the year is nice, but how I got to that 67 was not so glamorous,” he said. “But although I didn’t drive well and need to work on it, I was really pleased with my short game and the way I scored.
“My ball-striking wasn’t anywhere near as good as it’s been the last few weeks, but there was only one bogey and this is a good score to build on. Playing with Rickie helped kick me on.”