The world number 11, starting his round at the tenth, was four under par at the turn and followed that up with three birdies in the opening four holes of his back nine. Straight pars from his 14th hole onwards meant Rory finished at -7 in tied second. That allowed David Horsey to claim the clubhouse lead after the morning tee-times but McIlroy's opening 18 holes is further proof that he is ready for a successful 2018.
"I don't think you could have got better conditions out there," he told Sky Sports. "The greens in the morning are perfect and there wasn't much wind for the first 12 or 13 holes so you needed to take advantage of it today and thankfully I was able to do that with a low one.
"I feel like I left a few out there but at the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that."
One of Rory's shots of the day came at the first, his tenth, with this stunning chip, and he followed it up by rolling in the putt:
Rory doing his best Seve impression…
What an up-and-down that is ? pic.twitter.com/3pzNMKjYE0
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) 25 січня 2018 р.
It's his fifth straight under par round after he carded a tournament total -18 at last week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to finish tied third.
Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have late tee-times, while Irishman Paul Dunne has begun his round in the afternoon tee-times and was three under through four.
McIlroy is play at a happy hunting ground. The Holywood golfer claimed his first European Tour victory at Emirates Golf Club in 2009 and has not finished outside the top ten in six visits since, with a second win coming in 2015.