Former champion Louis Oosthuizen set the early pace on day one of The Open at Royal St George’s as he posted the clubhouse lead at six under par.
The 2010 winner salvaged par on the 18th to card a bogey-free 64 as the Kent venue welcomed the return of fans, with up 32,000 set to attend each day.
That put the South African one clear of another former champion in American Jordan Spieth, the 2017 winner.
Brian Harman also reached five under in warm but windy conditions on the coast.
Six major winners have been crowned since the last staging of The Open two years ago with the 2020 championship cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.
Shane Lowry won the 148th edition at Portrush in 2019 and the Irishman opened his title defence on Thursday with a one-over par 71.
Englishmen Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Justin Rose are part of a group sitting three off the lead, with American world number one Dustin Johnson one further back at two under.
Spain’s world number two Jon Rahm, the short-odds favourite for this major, birdied the last to finish at one over par.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson are among the late starters at the Sandwich course.
Patience key as Oosthuizen chases major win
Oosthuizen has gone close to adding to his major tally on a number of occasions since his Open victory at St Andrews just over a decade ago, with six runners-up finishes including at the 2015 Open.
“It gives me confidence going into majors knowing that I’m still competing in them and I’ve still got chances of winning,” said the 38-year-old.
“But once the week starts, I need to get that out of my mind and just focus on every round and every shot.”
Oosthuizen also said patience is key to performing well at golf’s showpiece events and he opened with seven successive pars before making three birdies through the turn.
Three more followed in the space of four holes on the back nine to send him clear of the pack but Oosthuizen was forced to scramble on the 18th after finding a bunker with his drive, chipping out and then successfully making an up-and-down to stay one clear of Spieth and Harman.
“Out here in windy conditions like this, you need to go on what you feel the whole time,” he added.
“It is difficult for the caddie to see what you think you want to do, so it’s great that he gives me a lot of confidence in trying to play the shot I want to play.”
Spieth sparks into life
Spieth stormed to three majors in as many years but has not added to that tally since winning at Royal Birkdale in 2017, when the 27-year-old also opened with a 65.
He dropped out of the world’s top 50 last year but has rediscovered his form and posted a first victory since lifting the Claret Jug four years ago when he won the Valero Texas Open in April.
The world number 23 showed he was ready to compete for majors again with a tie for third at this year’s Masters.
He bogeyed the par-three third but recovered with four birdies in a row to reach the turn at three under before following up with two more on the back nine, the latter of which he celebrated with a clenched after rolling in a fine putt on the par-three 16th.
Perhaps a Spieth win is inevitable given he is grouped with Branden Grace, the South African who has accompanied the past two Open champions during their opening two rounds.
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner, completes that trio and looked to be mounting a charge himself with three successive birdies on the back nine before a bogey at 15.
The big-hitting American said beforehand he was toying with the idea of using irons off the tee this week but tried to drive the green at 17 and ended up dropping another shot, after hitting into rough just shy of the putting surface.
That meant he finished one over par following a round that included four birdies and five bogeys.