Rory McIlroy underlined his current undisputed status as the world's No 1 by shooting an immaculate 64 on the day when Tiger Woods carded his highest ever score as a professional and Pádraig Harrington had a fresh-air trying to play left-handed.
Determined to end a winless streak dating to US PGA last August [he's had four runner up finishes in eight starts, including six Top-10s], McIlroy made eight effortless looking birdies to lead the Omega Dubai Desert by one stroke from Marc Warren with Graeme McDowell impressively going 66-65 in his first start of the years to share third on 12 under.
A few hours later, Woods shot an 82 in damp conditions in the Waste Management Phoenix Open — one shot worse than his previous highest score, which came in utterly horrific conditions in the third round of the 2002 Open at Muirfield.
Last in the field in Phoenix on 13 over par when play was suspended for the day, Woods looked as far from a 14-1 third favourite for the Masters as you are likely to find.
His round does not need much description — anyone who has ever shot 82 knows what it looks like. But needless to say his short game woes were much in evidence again.
McIlroy, in contrast, is the hot favourite to win the green jacket ahead of Bubba Watson (71 in Phoenix) and it showed in Dubai, where he missed just one green.
Whatever his feelings about his upcoming High Court case against Horizon Sports Management (it starts on Tuesday and Philip Reid of The Irish Times sums up the bones of the case here) and a possible two-week stint in the witness box, McIlroy is clearly playing some of the best golf of his career.
“With how I’m playing, I want to take advantage,” McIlroy said in Dubai. “I know I’m playing well enough to win. So there’s no point in being satisfied with second, when you know you’re playing well enough to lift trophies.”
McDowell was also pleased with his day's work in Dubai, where he arrived with deliberately low expectations for his first start of the year. The 35-year old, who was statistically one of the best putters in the world last year, made eight birdies in a 65 and has used the blade just 50 times over the first two days.
McIlroy, McDowell and Shane Lowry will all be at the Masters, where Darren Clarke will complete a four-man challenge if Pádraig Harrington fails to win on the US PGA Tour between now and then.
As Damien McGrane (70) shared 52nd on three under and Peter Lawrie (69) made the cut on two under alongside Michael Hoey (70), Clarke had 32 putts in a 71 to miss the cut by two shots on level par.
The Ulsterman is now facing a challenge for the European Ryder Cup captaincy from Spain's Miguel Ángel Jiménez. But he also continues to work as hard as possible, as his long-time manager Chubby Chandler explains in this week's By The Min Golf podcast (forward to 33 mins to hear the ISM man's views on the McIlroy v Horizon case).
The gory details of the McIlroy v Horizon scenario will keep us enthralled for a few months but fans of Pádraig Harrington will have been disappointed by the Dubliner's start to the PGA Tour year in Arizona.
Having played poorly in his first four starts of the 2015 campaign before Christmas and then won on the Asian Tour in Indonesia, there were high hopes that he might scorch out of the starting blocks in Arizona
Instead he went the other way, carding rounds of 71 and 78 to finish six shots outside the projected cut mark on seven over.
Having holed a 161-yard approach for an eagle two at his 17th hole on Thursday to get back to level — he parred his final hole on Friday to open with than 71 — Harrington joined Tiger and Phil Mickelson (69-76) on the first bus out of town with a 78 that ended with him having a fresh air en route to a quadruple bogey eight at the 18th.
Needing a birdie at the last to have even a remote chance of making the cut, his drive finished so close to the water hazard that he had to play his second left-handed and missed the ball completely.
His driving was better than it had been on the opening day, when he missed two thirds of his fairways. But he still missed far too many greens and didn't chip well enough.
He made five bogeys and two birdie twos in his first eight holes, slipping out to three over for the tournament. A birdie four at the 13th left him sitting close to the cut line but then took six at the par-four 14th, hitting his drive miles right into trouble.
He made another birdie four at the 15th to get back to three over but having missed a six footer for birdie at the stadium par-three 16th and then failed to birdie the 332-yard 17th after another wayward drive, he left himself too much to do at the last.
It was also a disappointing start to 2015 for West Waterford's Seamus Power, who missed the first cut on the season on the Web.com Tour.
Power struggled to a four over 74 on Thursday and while he shot 70 in the second round of the Panama Claro Championship in Panama City, he finished one stroke outside the qualifying mark on four over par.
Having brilliantly won his card at the Q-School last December, Power was making just his third career start on the Web.com Tour.
He played in the Rex Hospital Open in his adopted North Carolina in 2011 and last year and made the cut both times.