Kevin Kisner benefitted from glorious conditions to take a one-shot lead in the first round of The Open as a familiar cast of stars including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas loomed in the shadows.
American Kisner signed for a five-under-par 66 at a baked Carnoustie on Thursday and the early signs were that lower scores were attainable as the day progressed.
But as the winds picked up slightly, the afternoon starters struggled to match the numbers posted by the morning tee-offs.
Kisner was one shot above the trio of Erik van Rooyen, Zander Lombard and Tony Finau, with Brandon Stone, Brendan Steele and Ryan Moore two shots back.
It is perhaps the likes of 2014 victor McIlroy, Rahm and US PGA Championship holder Thomas that will give Kisner most cause for concern, though, as part of a pack of players all on two under.
Tiger Woods threatened something special with two birdies in his opening four holes, including draining a 12-foot putt at the first, but three bogeys and just one gain in a stretch of six holes on the back nine slowed his progress and he finished even par.
Jordan Spieth will be disappointed not to have built on an electric start that saw him reach the 11th at three under. The defending champion had to play sideways out of a bunker en route to a double-bogey six at the 15th, and two more dropped shots – one after finding the Barry Burn with a wayward tee shot at the last – followed as he settled for a one-over 72.
Kisner may have been helped by the conditions, but the 34-year-old – part of a house-share that includes Thomas and Spieth this week – was in majestic form.
A bogey at the fifth was quickly followed by a lengthy putt for eagle at the par-five sixth and a birdie at the eighth preceded three consecutive gains between the 13th and 15th on the way home.
Even when he found trouble down the stretch, Kisner's unflappable putting – he played just 22 strokes with the flatstick – saved the day, including a fine rescue out of the bunker at the last.
With the warm conditions creating extremely quick fairways, the use of irons off the tee to focus on accuracy as opposed to distance was a common theme.
McIlroy went against the grain by regularly opting to use his driver, hitting only 26.7 per cent of fairways as a result.
But the Northern Irishman, aiming to end a major drought stretching back to 2014, spoke earlier this week of a desire to play with an aggressive, carefree attitude and despite his struggles staying on the short grass he carded only one bogey.
Thomas bucked the trend of the afternoon starters by racing to four under through 11 holes, although a couple of bogeys at the 12th and 16th prevented him finishing even higher up the leaderboard.
Rahm, who practised with McIlroy and Phil Mickelson in the build-up to Thursday's play, remains in contention despite two bogeys slightly negating four birdies.
World number one Dustin Johnson faces a battle to make the weekend as a triple-bogey seven at the 18th left him five over, while the likes of Sergio Garcia (+4), Patrick Reed (+4) and Bubba Watson (+4) all need to improve to extend their stays beyond Friday.
21. August 2018
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