Colin Montgomerie headed The European Tour challenge for the 130th Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes with a superb opening 65 to storm into the lead after the first round.
The seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner carded six birdies and an eagle three in total in his excellent effort, the first time in 12 Open Championships that the Scot had started with a round in the 60s.
The 38 year old started and finished in style, rolling in a ten footer for birdie on the 206 yard opening hole and repeating the feat at the last from 40 feet.
It put Montgomerie three clear of Americans Brad Faxon and Chris Di Marco and Finland's Mikko Ilonen while one shot further back, a host of players ended their first rounds on 69 including European Tour members Alex Cejka, Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Paul McGinley, José Maria Olazábal, Greg Owen, Jesper Parnevik and Justin Rose.
“I said yesterday that I needed to get off to a decent start and the first three or four holes were important for me, and it worked today,” said Montgomerie. “To start birdie, birdie was a real bonus and it got me going, from then on I felt like I was swinging the club well and putting well.
“The first putt of an Open is very important and that went in from about 20 feet so it was good today, very good. Whenever I putt well I have a chance and I putted well today.”
After the gains at the opening two holes, Montgomerie took a major step towards his best ever round to par in an Open Championship when he pitched in for eagle three at the sixth and then birdied the eighth and ninth to be out in 30.
Another birdie putt, this time from 30 feet, dropped at the tenth before the Scot shed a shot at the 14th where he three-putted. But that mistake was quickly erased at the last, his 40 footer for a closing birdie three dropping into the hole to a tumultous reception from the packed galleries in the stands.
“The support I had out there today was fantastic,” said Montgomerie. “I don’t know how many people were in here today but there is an awful lot.
“They are very knowledgeable as well as it is mostly golfers who come to the Open. It was very good to see and the noise when I holed the putt on the 18th was fantastic. Let’s hope they will be cheering as much the rest of the week.”
Four shots adrift of Montgomerie, Justin Rose’s opening two under par effort rekindled memories of his heroics as an amateur in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale, where he finished tied for fourth place.
Three years ago it was the last round which thrust him into the limelight but this time it was the Englishman’s opening round of two under par 69 which caught the eye.
“I’m very happy with that start,” he said. “My overall play was good but I think I was most encouraged by my putting. It has been a bit streaky at times this season but today it felt comfortable and I thought my stroke on the greens was very solid.”
Rose, currently 22nd on the Volvo Order of Merit, played flawless golf on the outward half of the testing Lancashire links course with only one departure from par, that coming at the 557 yard seventh hole where he carded an eagle three to help him to the turn in 33.
More consistency followed on the back nine, with a birdie at the 13th and his only dropped shot of the day at the 15th where his drive unfortunately kicked left into a bunker, added to seven more par figures.
Rose showed his growing determination and confidence at the 16th however, after having dropped a shot at the previous hole, where he pushed his drive into the severe rough to the right of a fairway bunker.
Keeping his composure, the 20 year old chipped out, found the green with his third shot and rolled in a brave 15 footer for par four.
“That was probably the most important putt of the day,” he said. “It’s good to get a bit of momentum going but when you drop a shot the last thing you want to do is drop another one right away. It’s not nice to see you name slip off a leaderboard so to roll that putt in was important.”
Not quite as consistent as the Englishman was Paul McGinley but the Irishman battled hard to post a score, offsetting his four dropped shots with six birdies, including a pitch in from 30 feet at the tenth.
Spaniards Miguel Angel Jiménez and José Maria Olazábal might have finished with the same card of 69 but they went about their task in different ways, Jiménez prospering mainly on the back nine which he covered in 33 while Olazábal’s best form came in a front nine of 32.
Elsewhere Pierre Fulke rediscovered the form which saw him lead the Volvo Order of Merit for a long spell at the start of the 2001 season, reaching four under par for his round at one stage before bogeys at the 13th and 17th saw him have to settle for a 69.
Further down the leaderboard, defending champion Tiger Woods opened his round with a birdie two, but failed to maintain the form and eventually ended with a level par 71.
However the score was three better than US Open Champion Retief Goosen, who dropped five shots in the four holes from the 14th on his way to a 74.