Carnoustie. — Rory McIlroy began his bid for a first major in four years with an opening-round 69 as Tiger Woods finished level par at Carnoustie on his Open return.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy (29), sunk three birdies to leave him three shots behind leader Kevin Kisner.
American Kisner (34), carded an eagle and four birdies in a five-under 66.
Woods, at his first Open since 2015, was two under after 12, but ended with a 71, while defending champion Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose are one over.
World number one Dustin Johnson saw his chances harmed by a triple bogey on the par-four 18th to finish with a five-over 76.
“I am happy with 69 and I am happy with my day’s work,” said four-time major champion McIlroy, whose last triumph came at the 2014 PGA Championship.
“I think with some of the spots I hit it off the tee I would take it.”
McIlroy made birdies on the third, 12th and 13th, with a bogey on the fifth was his only blemish, helping him join England’s Matthew Southgate and Danny Willett on two under.
South African pair Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard, along with American Tony Finau, are a shot adrift of Kisner after 67s, while Brandon Stone — another South African who won the Scottish Open earlier this week — is a further shot behind.
Of the 156 players aiming to win the 147th Open, only 31 managed to finish under par in benign conditions on the east coast of Scotland, on the links dubbed Car-nasty.
On a dry, fast course in warm temperatures, scoring proved to be easier earlier in the day with five of the leading seven players having teed off in the morning as the breeze started to pick up in the afternoon.
Woods (42), was among the late starters and began by sinking a birdie putt from 10 feet on the first, followed by another birdie on the fourth.
The 14-time major winner’s progress was stalled by a bogey on the 10th and after cancelling that out with a 35-foot birdie putt on the next, dropped more shots on the 13th and 15th.
“I thought I played a pretty solid round,” said Woods, who has not won a major since 2008. “The round could certainly have been a little better.”
Spieth, a three-time major champion, is bidding to become the first player to retain the Claret Jug since Ireland’s Padraig Harrington a decade ago.
The 24-year-old American was three under after 11, but dropped four shots in the final four holes to finish six shots adrift of Kisner.
“It felt like a missed opportunity. I felt like I was really going well,” said the Texan.
“I think I’m certainly in a recoverable situation. I mean, I imagine this is as easy as the course could play.”
Spieth is one of seven American players sharing a house of the east coast of Scotland this week — along with early leader Kisner.
Only Kisner and Rickie Fowler, who shot an opening one-under 70, have not won a major among the group, with Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker having claimed eight between them.