Sterne shot 6-under 31 in his first nine in taking a one-stroke edge over Stephen Gallacher, who had two eagles en route to a 63.
Chris Doak and Tommy Fleetwood had bogey-free rounds Thursday and are tied for third with Scott Jamison, who had an eagle and a bogey. They are at 7-under 65. Six more players are at 6-under.
A total of 94 players beat par Thursday on the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Sterne opened on the second nine of the course with back-to-back birdies. He added another at No. 13 and closed the side with three straight birdies. He had four more birdies on the front nine, with two coming on par 3s. He was 3-under on the four pars 3s on the day.
Gallacher holed out for an eagle on the par-4, 485-yard sixth hole and made a putt to eagle the 500-yard, par-5 13th. However, he had back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11, including a three-putt from 6 feet on one of the holes.