The world champion has reached the final of this tournament for the last two years, each time losing to rival Judd Trump.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is through to the second round of the Northern Ireland Open after winning his opening fixture on Monday at the Marshall Arena.
The world number two compiled breaks of 60, 57, and a match-clinching 125 to see off the challenge of fellow Englishman Jamie O’Neill with a 4-1 scoreline.
O’Sullivan, who finished runner-up in the Northern Ireland Open in both 2018 and 2019, is bidding for a first title since claiming a sixth world crown at the Crucible in August.
Reigning champion Judd Trump advanced in similar fashion thanks to a 4-1 triumph against Gerard Greene.
The world number one emerged as the victor of the English Open in October, but unlike in previous campaigns there is no £1 million bonus on offer for a player who can triumph in all four Home Nations series events.
Elsewhere, Mark Williams and Kyren Wilson were two other notable names to qualify for the last 64.
Williams won a battle of Wales with Jamie Jones while recent Championship League winner Wilson thumped David Lilley in a whitewash.
Stephen Maguire and Yan Bingtao represented two more top-16 members who avoided an early exit.
However, Shaun Murphy, Jack Lisowski, and David Gilbert suffered immediate disappointment and crashed out at the first hurdle.
Murphy’s bout with Ryan Day was always going to be a difficult affair, and so it proved as the latter ran out a comfortable 4-0 winner.
But Lisowski and Gilbert’s respective 4-1 reverses against Ashley Carty and David Grace were a little more unexpected – albeit both of them have been struggling for form of late.
Meanwhile, European Masters runner-up Martin Gould hammered Jamie Clarke 4-0 and Zhou Yuelong recorded a bagel against Jimmy White as well.
Three players orchestrated remarkable comebacks from 3-0 behind to survive in the event, though.
Andy Hicks, Matthew Selt, and Jackson Page all retrieved seemingly lost causes to prevail in deciders against Paul Davison, Joe O’Connor, and Aaron Hill respectively.
Veteran Ken Doherty provided one of the performances of the day as he tallied a brace of century breaks in overcoming Chris Wakelin.
Among the others to progress were Luca Brecel, Xiao Guodong, Kurt Maflin, and Scott Donaldson.
On Tuesday, the first round continues with Mark Allen, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui, and Neil Robertson entering the fray.
This year’s Northern Ireland Open is taking place behind closed doors in Milton Keynes as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Live coverage continues on Eurosport, Quest, and various other services.
Click here to view the draw – scheduled times in CET.
Featured photo credit: WST