McIlroy clinched the Race to Dubai title without playing the first three finals series events. He won four times on the European Tour in 2014, two of which were major championships.
Lowry hasn't won since the 2012 season, but he did finish second twice this season. He was the runner-up at the BMW PGA Championship and he shared second place at the Wales Open.
Richie Ramsay and Thorbjorn Olesen carded matching 67s and they are tied for third. Defending champion Henrik Stenson birdied the par-5 18th for a 4-under 68. He was joined in fifth place by Emiliano Grillo.
Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen posted a 3-under 69 in round one on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. He shares seventh place with Edoardo Molinari, Ross Fisher, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood.
MORE TO FOLLOW.