McIlroy’s record at the European Tour’s flagship event has been anything but consistent, four missed cuts in eight starts offset by a 2014 victory and just one other top 10 finish.
But the four-time major winner produced just his seventh round in the 60s at the historic course on day one to trail Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard by two shots and share fourth place, his best position through 18 holes since he first played here in 2008.
South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt share second place at 6-under with a trio of Englishmen sharing fourth alongside McIlroy; Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Horsfield and Richard Bland also signing for 5-under 67s.
Andrew Dodt and Ryan Fox are the best of the Australasians at 2-under and T29, the only two of the 10 in the field to break par on day one.
It was McIlroy, though, who stole the headlines in his first appearance since missing the cut at The Players two weeks ago.
"I played well," he said after his round. "I played a lot better today than I have done the last couple of weeks so it's a good step in the right direction.
"I think I did everything pretty well. I drove the ball much better and put the ball in play off the tee a lot more than I've done the last couple of weeks, so that's been really good.
"I thought I gave myself a lot of chances and I took most of them. A little frustrated I couldn't get a birdie or two out of the last couple of holes but, overall, a really good start."
While most were interested in the play of McIlroy, the feel good story of the opening day was one of the three Englishman who matched him on the scorecard, veteran Richard Bland.
With no victories in 16 years on the Tour, Bland is the quintessential journeyman but is playing with a renewed perspective after his brother fell ill late last year and spent a month in a coma.
"Fortunately he seems on the way to recovery,” Bland said. “He's still recovering and he's here today. It's great to see him walking around.
"We're a close family anyway and it's brought us even closer together and it just makes you think, even though I've had a tough time on the course, life ain't that bad at the end of the day.
“I've tried to sort of keep grasp of that, as well, and hopefully now I can just push on forward."
Scott Hend and Sam Braze are next best of the Australians at 1-over and T74 with Adam Bland a shot further back and T93.
Wade Ormsby, Jason Scrivener, Jason Norris and Marcus Fraser are all 3-over and outside the top 100.
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