American Kevin Kisner took the first step towards joining his housemates as a major champion as Rory McIlroy made an encouraging start to the 147th Open Championship.
Kisner, who led by a shot after 54 holes of last year’s US PGA before finishing seventh, carded a five-under-par 66 to set the target and enjoy a one-shot lead over compatriot Tony Finau and the South African pair of Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
McIlroy, who is seeking a first major title since 2014, was three shots off the pace after a 69 which was matched by Spain’s Jon Rahm and the English pair of Danny Willett and Matthew Southgate.
Tiger Woods was among the later starters and arrived at the course with Kinesio Tape visible on the back of his neck, a worrying sign given the 42-year-old’s litany of injury problems in recent seasons.
The 14-time major winner visibly winced after hitting his opening tee shot, but that appeared to be the result of getting some dust from the dry ground in his eye and he went on to make an ideal start with a birdie from 10 feet.
Woods has not played in the Open since missing the cut at St Andrews in 2015 and the last of his 14 major wins was back in 2008, but the conditions were reminiscent of his most recent Open victory at Hoylake in 2006 and allowed him to employ a similar conservative approach.
A birdie from close range on the fourth took Woods to two under par and although he missed a good birdie chance on the par-five sixth, an excellent par save from a greenside bunker on the ninth kept him two under par at the turn.
He faded on the back nine though, and was back at even par after 18 holes.
Kisner is sharing accommodation with defending champion Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker – with eight major titles between them – and Rickie Fowler, with only Fowler and Kisner still seeking their first major success.
But while Spieth slipped from three under to one over by dropping four shots in the last four holes, including a trip into the Barry Burn on 18, Kisner had no such problems thanks to an eagle, four birdies and a solitary bogey.
“It’s not intimidating at all,” Kisner, who also shared Spieth’s plane home after his victory at Royal Birkdale last year, said of his housemates. “They’re all great people. That’s the best part about it.”
Van Rooyen, who failed to convert a four-shot lead after 54 holes of the Irish Open a fortnight ago, carded five birdies and dropped his only shot of the day on the tough closing hole.