American Kevin Kisner has ridden a hot putter to a five under 66 to claim the first round lead in the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
He heads a jam-packed leaderboard, with nearly a third of the 156-man field all within five shots heading into day two.
The 34-year-old Kisner, out in the morning, started slowly and a bogey at the par-4 5th appeared to wake him from his slumber and he bounced back with an eagle at the par-5 6th. Birdies at the 8th, 13th, 14th and 15th catapulted him into top spot, one stroke clear of countrymen Tony Finau and South African pair Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard. Americans Ryan Moore and Brendan Steele, along with last week’s Scottish Open winner, Brandon Stone, are a further shot back at three under.
Six of the eight Australians playing at Carnoustie are within seven shots of Kisner, with Australian Open champion Cameron Davis and former World No.1s Adam Scott and Jason Day the best-placed at even par, five shots adrift.
There was barely a zephyr blowing across the layout for most of the morning and, while the fairways were firm and fast, the greens were very receptive. Of the 31 players who broke par in the opening round, only 10 teed off after midday.
Kisner, whose best finish in the Open was a T54 at Royal Birkdale last year, teed off shortly before 8am local time and took full advantage of the conditions.
While he only hit nine greens in regulation for the round, his putter was white hot and he needed just 22 putts for the round. Kisner said he had been working hard on his putting in practice this week and now he was reaping the benefits.
“I putted so badly at the Greenbrier, and I just really worked hard at it. I felt like my ball position got too far back at the Greenbrier. I was missing every putt to the right,” he said.
“So I came here Monday and worked really hard on my speed, which is always the hardest thing for us to get accustomed to here. I felt like the greens were not as slow as we've had in the past because the wind hadn't been up yet.
“The transition wasn't as big a deal. And the ball started coming off on the line, and when I'm doing that, I feel like I can hole them all.”
Kisner – who grew up 30 minutes from the home of the Masters, Augusta National – is sharing a house at Carnoustie with defending champion Jordan Spieth, so he has seen and held the Claret Jug quite a bit during the past week.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Jordan and the Claret Jug,” Kisner said. “I flew home with him after he won. And then over to Paris with him last week. And I'm staying with him this week and he no longer has it.
“He gave it back on Monday. It would be cool to return the favour and let him look at it a little bit.”
The Australian contingent had a tough day, with all eight playing throughout the afternoon and into the evening with firmer greens and more wind. But they are far from out of the hunt for the Claret Jug, having battled hard to stay in touch.
“I generally played better than the score,” said Scott, who birdied the 18th hole to get back to even par. “I hit a couple bad tee shots on the back nine and had to take drops. That was kind of a little bit of my undoing.
“But even par first round of a major is never a bad thing. Everything felt pretty good.”
Scott says the closing birdie is a good momentum builder heading into the second round.
“Momentum is a big thing, and that putt on the last went my way, a few around the turn didn't,” he said. “But if they did, you're 3-under, and hang in there and shoot 4-under, and you're one off the lead.”
Marc Leishman finished with a one over 72, after reaching four under through his first eight holes to be one shot from the lead. But a three-putt bogey on the 9th hole halted his momentum and he dropped two more shots at the next hole.
“It was a good start and bad finish,” he said. “If you hit bad shots around here, you get punished.
“Unfortunately, I hit a couple of average shots that finished in bad positions. You can rack up bogeys and doubles pretty quick. The front nine was promising but the back nine obviously wasn't what I was after.”
The Victorian remains buoyant though, saying he’s come from further back in Championships before … making a reference to his weekend rounds of 64-66 at St Andrews in 2015 to make a play-off for the title.
“I'm certainly not out of that. I've come from farther back before,” said Leishman, who had just 25 putts for his round. “I'm obviously pretty disappointed at the moment but I’m positive.
“It's 54 holes to go and some tough conditions tomorrow by the looks of it with the rain. The course is only getting tougher out there now.”
Davis, who will in the first group out on Friday morning, had a sensation first major championship round. He offset two double bogies and one bogey with five birdies – including one from two-feet on the tough 18th hole – to card his even par.
The 23-year-old Sydneysider stuck to his strategy of playing irons from most tees and it paid off. He missed just three fairways in the round and if he can reproduce that form early on day two he can get among the leaders very quickly.
Of the other Australians, Lucas Herbert and Cameron Smith both had two over 73s, while four back nine bogies saw Brett Rumford sign for a three over 74. Matt Jones, who is waiting news of the birth of his third child, dropped three shots in the last two holes for a four over 75.