Coming in as favourite even as he hunts a first major in eight years, Rory McIlroy promptly posted his best opening score at the Open since 2010.
The Northern Irishman went out mid-morning on Thursday at St Andrews in relatively benign conditions, and within minutes had laid down a hefty signal of intent. On the first, sank a 55-foot putt for birdie.
McIlroy, Open champion in 2014, picked up three more shots across three holes from the fifth to climb into contention at 4-under and, when his game unravelled ever-so slightly, rebounded from his solitary dropped shot of the day on 13 with a brilliant birdie at the next.
A couple of stellar par saves at 16 and 17 protected McIlroy's tally, with the world No 2 birding the final hole to finish with a 66. Subsequently, he sat second on the leaderboard, two back from American debutant Cameron Young.
“I played well, very solid,” McIlroy said. “Everyone knows on this golf course you have to make your score going out and I did that.
“Started off tremendously with a bonus on the first, birdied the par five, birdied a couple of the short par fours with wedges in my hand, and then on the back nine even though with the wind it got tricky, you pick off a couple on the 14th and 18th.
“I birdied the holes I should have and only made one mistake … the way this course is playing, with how firm and bouncy and tricky it is, it’s all about limiting your mistakes. And only one bogey out there today was good.”
McIlroy, a former world No 1, has enjoyed a fine run in the majors thus far this year. He was second at the Masters, eighth at the PGA Championship and tied-5th at last month’s US Open. His most recent triumph? That came the week before Brookline, when he reigned supreme at the Canadian Open.
However, it’s felt an eternity since McIlroy, 32, captured the last of his four major titles.
Asked how high his confidence is at present, given all facets of his game appear to be firing, he said: “Yeah, they are. I’m driving the ball well.
“Once I put myself in the fairways, I’m giving myself chances because my irons just that little bit better than it has been. I’m putting well, seeing shots well and thinking well, and I think that’s the most important part this week. If you do that you keep yourself in the tournament. I just need to keep it going.”
Meanwhile, Young excelled in only his sixth major appearance, with his blemish-free 64 now second only to McIlroy's 2010 effort for a first-round score at an Open on the Old Course.
Young, who has missed the cut in his two most recent starts, has performed admirably in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, with two runner-up finishes and another couple of thirds, including the PGA Championship.
“Got off to a great start [four birdies in opening six holes] and from there we just played some really smart. Yeah, we had a blast. Was a lot of fun out here.”
Elsewhere, Australia’s Cameron Smith carded a 67, while English amateur Barclay Brown signed off for a 68. His score was matched by three-time European No 1 Lee Westwood.