England’s Poulter carded three birdies on the front nine and matched it after the turn to sign for a 66, with compatriot Andy Sullivan, Australia’s Marcus Fraser and Martin Kaymer of Germany also on six-under at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
None of the leading quartet can actually win the Race to Dubai, with McIlroy ahead in that particular contest and the Northern Irishman put himself in with every chance of scooping the bonus pot on Sunday with a solid 68, which included five birdies and just one bogey.
The four-time major winner shares sixth place with Danny Willett, the man who could beat him to be top European of the season, while six other players also reached -4 after the first 18 holes.
Branden Grace was among them and the South African is one of the seven stars in with a shout of winning the Race to Dubai, with another contender, Justin Rose, not faring so well after posting an opening 71.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari signed for an excellent five-under par 67 but all eyes will be on the ongoing battle between McIlroy and Willett as the tournament progresses.
Tagged Ian Poulter