Cabrera eagled the first hole and added four birdies in a bogey-free 66 for an 8-under 136, one stroke better than Ross Fisher and Marcus Fraser.
Fisher, a 26-year-old who grew up playing at the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water and is a member, finished birdie-eagle-birdie for a 67 that left him third along with Fraser, who shot 70.
Rose, who had not played because of a back injury since finishing fifth in the U.S. Masters six weeks ago, made five bogeys along with his seven birdies.
'I'm certainly happy with my score,' Rose said. 'Birdieing the last three turned a bad day into a good day. I didn't play that well, missed some fairways, and bogeyed all the tough par-4s.'
Rose holed out from 14 feet on the 16th, two-putted from 40 feet at the 610-yard 17th, and blasted out of a greenside bunker to get within eight feet at the par-5 18th.
Cabrera began by knocking in an 8-iron from 173 yards at No. 1 for an eagle 2.
The Argentine used his driver only four times in his round.
'I always love coming here. It seems to bring the best out of me,' he said.
Padraig Harrington, who last week became the first native to win the Irish Open in 25 years, was 6 under after a second successive 69. He can claim a $1.34 million bonus if he wins this week.
Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a 68 to join Harrington, first-round co-leader Paul Broadhurst (72), Matthew Millar (69) and Shiv Kapur (71).
Paul Casey, who won the World Match Play title on the same course in September, continued his recovery from a quadruple-bogey 9 on Thursday by shooting 67 to get to 4 under 140.
Ernie Els, who supervised changes to the course, slipped from a first-round 68 to a 76 Friday.
'I don't know quite what happened. I made bogey at 7 and got a bit angry then I doubled the 10th and dropped another one at 11,' he said.
He fell eight strokes off the lead.
'I believe I can still catch the leaders, but I can't afford to go wandering mentally like I did today,' he said.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen shot a 74 and missed the cut with a 6-over 150.
'Same old story at Wentworth for me, unfortunately,' Goosen said. 'The course is good, but I still don't like the greens.'
Colin Montgomerie shot an erratic 76, but just made the cut at 2-over 146.
Among those failing to get to the weekend were Darren Clarke (76-148) and 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell (75-153).