By Tony Jimenez
DUBAI (Reuters) - Swede Peter Hanson and Briton Paul Lawrie parried the punches of the European Tour's heavyweights to lead the way after the Dubai World Championship first round on Thursday.
While Rory McIlroy (66) seized the early initiative against money-list leader Luke Donald (72) in their fight to end the season as Europe's number one, Hanson fired a record-equaling 64 at the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.
Lawrie produced the sort of display that earned him victory at the 1999 British Open as he tucked into second place on 65, one ahead of McIlroy and two in front of Spain's Sergio Garcia.
Veteran Lawrie ended a barren run of nine years without a victory when he captured the Andalucia Open title in March and said he still believed he was capable of improving as a player.
"I probably hit more balls and work harder at my game than I ever did," the Scot told reporters. "I'm only 42 and have got a long time to go.
"If you want to get better you have to put the time in and I've been doing that. I want to be back in the top 50 of the rankings," said world number 163 Lawrie.
U.S. PGA Tour money-list winner Donald is bidding to become the first player to land the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic.
He has a lead of $1.06 million over second-placed McIlroy at the top of the money-list and needs to finish in the top eight here to guarantee he ends the season as Europe's number one.
South Korean Yang Yong-eun, the 2009 U.S. PGA champion, pulled out of the event after four holes because of a shoulder injury.
This week's tournament offers a prize fund of $7.5 million plus an additional bonus pool of $7.5 million to be distributed among the leading 15 players in the final order of merit.
(Editing by Martyn Herman)