On a day when Marc Warren and Gary Orr also posted promising opening rounds, the Aberdonian shot a flawless six-under-par 66 to sit just a shot behind the three co-leaders, English duo Ian Poulter and Richard Bland and South African Keith Horne.
"I played nicely," said Lawrie, who, until last week, hadn't played competitively since he had to return from the Hong Kong Open in November without hitting a shot due to a back injury.
"I think it was important even missing the cut last week to get a tournament under my belt before coming over for the next three weeks. I think that helped today, although I played all right last week.
"Today I hit an awful lot of good shots and a lot of good iron shots, I drove the ball a bit poorly, but when I was in trouble, I hit nice iron shots to recover."
Warren, who reckons he's benefited enormously from spending almost two months practising in Florida, and Orr both signed for three-under 69s to earn a share of 25th spot at the end of the opening day. Both players had five birdies and Warren would have been closer to the leaders but for a 5-5 finish to his round.
Stephen Gallacher, who only learned last weekend that he'd earned a spot in the event, is also handily placed after a 70, one better than David Drysdale, but Colin Montgomerie had to settle for a one-over 73 following two dropped shots late in his round. Alastair Forsyth and South African Open champion Richie Ramsay could only manage 75s and they face a battle in today's second round just to survive the halfway cut.
Poulter, a strong contender for Montgomerie's Ryder Cup team in Wales later in the year, holed a mammoth 70-foot putt on the final green to earn a share of the lead with a bogey-free 65.
South African Horne, who finished second last week in Johannesburg, and Bland matched Poulter's effort to top the leaderboard ahead of a group of nine at six-under, including Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy as well as Lawrie.
Former champion and last year's runner up Martin Kaymer dropped just one shot in a five under 67 to share third with a bogey-free Louis Oosthuizen, who also claimed a runner-up finish at Abu Dhabi Golf Club 12 months ago.
Lee Westwood, last season's Race to Dubai winner, opened his 2010 campaign with a 69, beating his two playing partners, defending champion Paul Casey and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, by three shots.