But the 34 year-old Ryder Cup star has the formidable figure of world number two Rory McIlroy hot on his heels after the 22 year-old from Northern Ireland turned a potentially average round into a work of art rattling in six birdies on a breathtaking back nine that saw him end the day just two shots off the pace with a six under par 66.
It was a performance that further spiced up the battle for The Race to Dubai title and gives McIlroy a six shot advantage over world number one Luke Donald, the man currently sitting at the top of the European money list, who could only muster a level par 72. US Open Champion McIlroy needs to win in Dubai with Donald finishing outside the top nine to snatch The Race to Dubai crown from the Englishman.
But while all eyes were on the top two and their own private war, Hanson calmly went about his business equalling the course record set by Lee Westwood in 2009 and matched by Ross Fisher twelve months ago.
“It’s definitely the best golf I have played,” said the Swede. “My ball striking was very, very pure, I was hitting a lot of fairways and I think I only missed one green when I managed to get it up and down on the third hole. I gave myself a lot of chances – my first five birdies today were tap?ins, which is kind of nice when you don’t even have to putt.”
Sandwiched between Hanson and third placed McIlroy is former Open Champion Paul Lawrie who rolled back the years to take an early lead in the $7.5 million Dubai World Championship presented by DP World with a flawless opening round of seven-under par 65.
Lawrie won his first tournament since 2002 earlier this year and is making his first appearance in the grand finale to The European Tour season – an event held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council.
And despite the presence of the best young players in European golf, the 1999 Open Champion proved he still has the game at the age of 42 to compete with the likes of Donald and McIlroy, the only remaining contenders for The Race to Dubai title.
Lawrie began his run with two 15ft putts on the fifth and sixth and the Scot then chipped close at the long seventh, made a 30-footer to complete an outward 32 and then collected more birdies at the tenth, 11th and 14th. It means Lawrie will join Hanson in the final two ball of the day today (Friday), while McIlroy will make up a sumptuous two-ball with fourth-placed Sergio Garcia of Spain who carded a five under par 67.
“It felt like nearly every putt I looked at on the back nine went in,” said McIlroy. “It’s not something I’ve experienced that often. I didn’t expect Luke to play the way he did. I thought if I could shoot 4? or 5?under for the back nine, it would be a really good score so to shoot six and to make the putt on the last was just a bonus.”
With McIlroy extending the daylight between himself and Donald, the world number one knows he needs to keep McIlroy in his sights. “It’s always hard playing with Rory,” said Donald. “It almost feels like a bit of a match?play scenario. But the goal is to concentrate on myself, and just try and do what I can do to try and win this tournament. Hopefully the rest will take care of itself. At least I am two shots better off this year than last when I finished ninth – you’ve got to find the positives.”
The 58-strong field – Justin Rose and Fredrik Jacobson are not playing – was further reduced to 57 when Korean Y E Yang pulled out after four holes with a neck injury.
On a day when spectators turned out in large numbers to see the top two players in the world go head to head, they were joined by Anwar Ahmad Wajdi, Senior Vice President Commercial and Strategy from presenting sponsors DP World and European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady players who welcomed Donald and McIlroy to the first tee.