DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose made the best start of the three players looking to become Europe's top player for 2017 at the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai with a 6-under 66 Thursday.
An eagle from the greenside bunker on the 14th hole and a stunning approach shot to 2 feet for birdie on the 18th handed the Englishman the early initiative in his attempt to win the European Tour's Race to Dubai crown.
The other two players in contention for the crown – leader Tommy Fleetwood and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia – opened with rounds of 73 and 70, respectively.
Patrick Reed was the first-round leader after shooting 7-under 65.
Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final event of the season and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.
Sixth-ranked Rose is chasing his third straight tournament success after wins in China and Turkey.
''Really happy with that as a start,'' the Olympic champion said Thursday at Jumeirah Golf Estates. ''I kind of wanted to come out today with good intent and sort of get myself moving forward quickly.''
Fleetwood started poorly, making a double bogey on the first and then missing a short birdie putt on the second before another bogey on the third.
But the Englishman was hopeful of getting his act together over the next three rounds.
''As of right now, it is kind of out of my hands a little bit after that start, but you never know what can happen,'' Fleetwood said. ''Three days to go, that's the luxury of four rounds of golf. I've got three more to go, and let's see what happens.''
Reed, who is yet to win a tournament this year, started with birdies on his first two holes, and then added five more on his back nine despite suffering from back pain while warming up in the morning.
''I woke up this morning, had this really awful pain in my back, close to my shoulder. The warm-up wasn't how I wanted,'' Reed said. ''Any time you can start birdie-birdie, it gets you started and I was able to right the ship and make some putts and hit some good shots.''
Australia's Scott Hend (66) shares second place with Rose, while defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick of England started with a 5-under 67.
Sweden's Henrik Stenson – the reigning Race to Dubai champion – is out with a rib injury.