Tiger Woods made a storming start to the 141st British Open at Royal Lytham on Thursday, taking a solo lead at one point with four early birdies as he reached the turn in 30.
Seeking a 15th major title four years after his last major win at the US Open, the 36-year-old American got off to a perfect start by sinking a 10-footer for birdie at the par-three first.
He then moved into a share of the lead at two under with an 20-foot putt at the fourth and picked up two more shots at the sixth and seventh to stand a stroke clear off the field.
It could have been even better for him as birdie putts marginally missed the cup at the eighth and ninth.
Leading English hope Lee Westwood got off to the perfect start with birdies on the first two holes, but a skewed approach to the third resulted in a double bogey.
Another dropped shot followed at the sixth as the World No.3's usually solid iron play let him down, but he had birdies at the seventh and ninth to reach the turn in one-under 33.
There were few early fireworks in keeping with a subdued atmosphere to start the 141st Open Championship with fans huddled up against the cold and sheltering under umbrellas from the patchy rain coming in off the Irish Sea.
The course was lush and the greens soft and receptive, leaving Royal Lytham's 206 pot bunkers as the main obstacles to be overcome by a field of 156, US Open joint runner-up Michael Thompson getting in as a last-minute replacement for fellow American Russ Cochran.
With skies clearing somewhat as the morning wore on and the birdie count accelerating, the early leaders in the clubhouse were on one-under 69.
A win for Woods would leave him three shy of the majors milestone mark of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus in 1986 and it would complete a clean sweep of golf's four top tournaments for Americans for the first time since 2004.
That situation came about following wins for Keegan Bradley at last year's US PGA Championship, Bubba Watson at the Masters and Webb Simpson at the US Open, a remarkable turnaround for US fortunes after going six majors without a win.
The competition for major glory at Royal Lytham was ferocious, however, with the top three ranking golfers in the world all being British.
No.1 Luke Donald and No. 3 Westwood are both long overdue a win in the majors, having failed to do so a combined 93 times in the past.
Westwood, at 39, is seen as the better bet due mainly to his accuracy off the tee and his past near misses in the Open.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, in his fifth British Open at the age of 23, looks to rebound from his poor showing at Royal St George's last year when he let his frustrations with the bad weather affect his play.
Fellow Ulsterman Clarke was trying to rediscover the zen-like attitude that brought him a huge upset win last year, while other former winners looking to mount a challenge include Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen.
Source: AFP Global Edition