Tiger Woods threw down the gauntlet at the start of the 129th Open championship at St Andrews - and the man many see as his biggest rival was only too happy to accept the challenge. For most of the opening day Woods occupied the top of the leaderboard with a flawless five under par 67, but Ernie Els, winner of The Standard Life Loch Lomond last week and second in both the Masters and US Open this year, went one better with an opening 66.
The world number three, twice the winner of the US Open, took the lead with a magnificent birdie on the 455-yards Road Hole 17th, one of the most treacherous holes in golf. His 184 yards approached curled to within four feet to set up only the third birdie of the day.
American left-hander Steve Flesch, playing his Open debut, matched Woods' 67 to share second place after a glorious opening day with a record 39,000 spectators.
Woods, trying to become the youngest player ever to win a career Grand Slam, started with eight pars but a birdie on the ninth triggered an outstanding back nine. The reigning US Open and US PGA Champion birdied the tenth, almost eagled the 12th and then lipped out for an eagle on the 14th after chipping from beside the green. He added a fifth birdie in the space of seven holes at the 15th.
Among the players a further shot adrift was Padriag Harrington who slipped from six under after 12 to a four under par 68. Ian Garbutt, in only his second Open, got to seven under but dropped three three shots coming home for his 68. Sergio Garcia, last at Carnoustie twelve months ago, opened his account with a 68.
Nick Faldo looked as if he might make his presence felt, but after three birdies in the first seven holes he had to be content with a 70, the same as Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, winner of his last two tournaments.
Christy O’Connor Jnr, here as the winner Senior British Open which he defends next week, shot a round of 69 while Paul Lawrie's title defence began with a six-over 78.