Former champions Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth sparkled in the morning sunshine as the 149th British Open started at Royal St George's on Thursday.
South African Oosthuizen, the winner in 2010, made six birdies in a flawless 64 to finish on six under par, one shot ahead of American Spieth, champion in 2017.
Brian Harman matched his compatriot Spieth with a 65 to share second place, one clear of Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, South African Dylan Frittelli and veteran American Stewart Cink, another former champion.
Oosthuizen, 38, struck his irons beautifully to pick up three birdies around the turn and added three more on the closing holes to make a strong start to his bid for a second Major title.
“Probably in my mind it was the perfect round I could have played,” he told reporters. “I didn’t make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. So, yeah, just a very good solid round.”
Spieth made four consecutive birdies from the fifth hole and sank a 12-foot putt on the 16th green to cap a fine round and confirm the 27-year-old’s return to form after he finished 2020 ranked 82nd in the world.
England's Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan and Jack Senior carded 67s along with South African Justin Harding, American Scottie Scheffler and South Korea's Byeong-Hun An.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic but up to 32,000 fans are allowed in each day this year as part of a British government test event and warm applause rippled around the links course.
“The Open is a very special venue, a very special tournament for everyone,” Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, told reporters.
“To be able to be clapped onto every tee, every green makes a big difference in this game and it’s been fantastic to have them back.”
It was a tough day for 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau who battled to a round of 71.
The long-hitting American visited the treacherous rough on several occasions and made three bogeys on the front nine to drop back to one over.
DeChambeau appeared to have worked out the undulating fairways when he collected three consecutive birdies from the 12th but two more dropped shots left him well off the pace.
World number one Dustin Johnson started with a solid 68 and defending champion Shane Lowry carded 71 playing with Oosthuizen and Spanish US Open champion Jon Rahm, whose 71 was spoiled by a double bogey at the ninth.
Richard Bland was given the honour of hitting the opening shot of the tournament and the Englishman, who won his first European PGA Tour title this season at the 478th attempt, struck his drive straight down the fairway.
“It was very special, very nerve-racking,” Bland told reporters. “This is what it’s all about. The nerves definitely sort of cranked up a little bit and I was glad to hit one in the fairway.”
British and Irish unless stated, par 70:
64 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)
65 Brian Harman (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA)
66 Stewart Cink (USA), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Webb Simpson (USA), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa)
67 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Harding (Rsa), Collin Morikawa (USA), Justin Rose, Scottie Scheffler (USA), Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Jack Senior, Marcel Siem (Ger)
68 Jaco Ahlers (Rsa), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Paul Casey, Corey Conners (Can), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Dustin Johnson (USA), Chris Kirk (USA), Keith Mitchell (USA), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Daniel van Tonder (Rsa)
69 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Marcus Armitage, Joel Dahmen (USA), Rickie Fowler (USA), Talor Gooch (USA), Lanto Griffin (USA), Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Brooks Koepka (USA), Yuxin Lin (Chn), Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Xander Schauffele (USA), Cameron Smith (Aus), Cameron Tringale (USA), Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Will Zalatoris (USA)
70 Daniel Berger (USA), Richard Bland, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Rafael Cabrera (Esp), Tony Finau (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Russell Henley (USA), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Max Homa (USA), Billy Horschel (USA), Jazz Janewattananond Tha), Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), Chan Kim (USA), Kevin Kisner (USA), Jason Kokrak (USA), Rory McIlroy, Ryutaro Nagano (Jpn), Victor Perez (Fra), Aaron Rai, Antoine Rozner (Fra), Kevin Streelman (USA), Harold Varner III (USA), Johannes Veerman (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Matt Wallace, Sam Horsfield
71 Keegan Bradley (USA), Sam Burns (USA), Darren Clarke, Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Brad Kennedy (Aus), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Shane Lowry, Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Jon Rahm (Esp), J. C. Ritchie (Rsa), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jonathan Thomson, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
72 Christoffer Bring (Den), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Ricardo Celia (Col), Ernie Els (Rsa), Branden Grace (Rsa), Pádraig Harrington, Tyrrell Hatton, Daniel Hillier (Nzl), Charley Hoffman (USA), Matt Jones (Aus), Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Ryosuke Kinoshita (Jpn), Robert MacIntyre, Richard Mansell, Shaun Norris (Rsa), Ryan Palmer (USA), Ian Poulter, Chez Reavie (USA), Patrick Reed (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), Brendon Todd (USA), Paul Waring, Adam Long (USA), Thomas Detry (Bel)
73 Sam Forgan, Abel Gallegos (Arg), Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Joe Long, Troy Merritt (USA), Sebastian Munoz (Col), Poom Saksansin (Tha), Marcel Schneider (Ger), Adam Scott (Aus), Jason Scrivener (Aus), Brendan Steele (USA), Gary Woodland (USA)
74 Patrick Cantlay (USA), Rikuya Hoshino (Jpn), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Matt Kuchar (USA), Romain Langasque (Fra), Alexander Noren (Swe), Aaron Pike (Aus), Matthias Schmid (Ger), Laird Shepherd, Min-Woo Lee (Aus)
75 Sam Bairstow, John Catlin (USA), Jason Day (Aus), Harris English (USA), Lucas Glover (USA), Adam Hadwin (Can), Cole Hammer (USA), Yuki Inamori (Jpn), Richard T. Lee (Can), Marc Leishman (Aus), Haotong Li (Chn), Michael Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Nicholas Poppleton
76 Daniel Croft, Joost Luiten (Ned)
77 Ben Hutchinson, Connor Worsdall
80 Deyen Lawson (Aus), Phil Mickelson (USA)