Louis Oosthuizen sits just one shot behind leader Bill Haas after the opening round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
The South African was joined on three under par by Bubba Watson, who beat him in a play-off for the Green Jacket in 2012, and defending champion Adam Scott.
American Haas opened with a bogey, but from there on carded six birdies and only one further dropped shot as his 68 set the pace on a day when difficult pin placements prevented low scoring.
Oosthuizen also found water on the 12th but escaped with a bogey, but had already had four birdies at that stage and added further gains on the 16th and 18th.
“I've been feeling this coming for a while that I'm swinging well, playing well,” said the former Open Champion.
“I know I can play this golf course, but your game needs to be on form."
Scott was delighted with the start to his Masters title defence, despite being one of many players to fall foul of the shortest hole at Augusta National.
The only blemish on Scott's opening 69 was a double bogey on the 12th.
Masters rookies Kevin Stadler, Jonas Blixt and Jimmy Walker among a seven-strong group on two under.
Scott had been four under after a flawless opening 11 holes, with one of his birdies coming on the par four tenth where he sealed victory on the second hole of a play-off with Angel Cabrera last year.
But the Australian - aiming to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in winning back-to-back titles - then dumped his tee shot on the 12th into Rae's Creek in front of the green to run up a double-bogey five, before three-putting from long range for par on the 13th and 15th.
"I was very happy with the way I played today tee to green," said Scott, whose 69 matched his lowest opening round at the Masters from last year and 2010. "It was really how you hope to come out and play at any Major, and especially the Masters. I was really solid.
"I hit the one poor shot on 12, which obviously cost me a couple of shots, but very pleased to get off to a good start and there's no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I've ever been in the past, because I didn't have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual.
"Getting off to a good start in a Major is huge, because I think they are the hardest tournaments to chase. Birdies aren't that easy to come by usually at Majors, and if you're five, six or ten back after the first round it's a hard three days in front of you to peg it back."
Asked if he had thought much about joining such an illustrious club by winning on Sunday, Scott added: "I haven't really. It's been mentioned and it gets mentioned to every guy who is coming back to defend I'm sure.
"It's an amazing group of guys, great champions, but it's so much golf to play yet, I can't even think about it. My goal teeing off today was to play three good days and get myself in contention and give myself a chance like I did last year."
US Open Champion Justin Rose was another to get a wet ball at the 12th but still shot a 76 matched by playing partner Phil Mickelson, who had two sevens on his card.
Three groups ahead of Scott, 50 year old Miguel Angel Jiménez was four under after ten holes in his bid to become the oldest winner of any Major Championship, Julius Boros being 48 years four months and 18 days when he won the US PGA Championship in 1968.
However, the Spaniard then dropped a shot on the 11th and also found water off the tee on the 155 yard 12th - ranked the second hardest hole on the course - to card a double bogey on his way to a 71.
Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy safely found the 12th green in regulation but three-putted for a bogey and did the same on the 18th to also card a 71.
"It was a good day at the office, anything in red figures was a good effort out there," McIlroy said. "When I saw the pin positions this morning I thought they didn't want people to get too many under par.
"The set up was much more difficult than it has been in the past. Going out tomorrow afternoon the greens are going to be firmer. I wouldn't mind if they were a little softer. They're fast already. By Sunday they're going to be pretty dicey."
Haas had never broken 70 before in 16 previous rounds at Augusta but recovered from a bogey on the first with six birdies, including from five feet on the 18th after also dropping a shot on the 17th.
"I knew about that stat before the round so to shoot in the 60s feels great," Haas said. "There is a lot of golf left but I'm ecstatic with today."
The 31 year old's father Jay finished third here in 1995 and the family connection runs even deeper.
"My dad's uncle, Bob Goalby, won the Masters in 1968, and I think it's been a special place in our family since then," Haas added. "My dad, I asked him last night, he said he played 22 times here.
"My uncle Jerry has competed in a couple of Masters and my uncle Dillard Pruitt, I'm almost positive he played one Masters, maybe two."
Scotland's Stephen Gallacher had been in outright second when he birdied the ninth to reach the turn in 33, but a hat-trick of bogeys from the tenth halted his charge.
The 39 year old birdied the 15th and eventually signed for a 71 on his debut, one shot better than former US Open champion Graeme McDowell, with Italians Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero both one under par.