Rory McIlroy produced a sparkling round of golf to take a one-shot lead after day one of the 143rd Open at Hoylake, as Tiger Woods rallied to impress in his first major appearance for 11 months.
McIlroy, 24, was his usual Thursday self as he went bogey free all day to card a six-under 66, one stroke ahead of Italy's Matteo Manassero who had earlier set the clubhouse lead at five under.
A host of players sat one shot further back at minus four as the early starters made the most of benign conditions, while world number one Adam Scott joined them late on with a mightily impressive 68 as the wind began to gather speed in the late afternoon sun across the gorgeous Royal Liverpool.
See Also: McIlroy content with opening round
Manaserro's compatriots Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were among those alongside Scott at the close of play after they produce sublime early rounds that displayed the sort of form that saw them both earn a spot on Colin Montgomorie's Ryder Cup team in 2010. For Edoardo it was patticually pleasing given it was his first appearance at this major championship since 2011 following injury and a loss of form.
And with injury in mind, Tiger Woods rallied from two opening bogeys to card a three-under 69 in his first major appearance since last season's US PGA following a superb inward nine of 33 that included five birdies and a solitary bogey.
Fellow Americans Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler and Boo Weekley also carded 69s, as did former European Tour Order of Merit winner Robert Karlsson who proved once and for all his swing yips of two years ago were firmly a thing of the past.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson struggled, however, and following a wayward second shot at 18 that saw him go out of bounds down the right, a bogey at the par-five last meant a three-over 75 leaving him with work to do to make the weekend with conditions set to be considerably worse on Friday across the Wirral links course.
With heavy rain showers forecast for tomorrow morning, Thursday's late finishers can count themselves unlucky to be facing far tougher conditions on Friday morning than their counterparts can expect in mid-afternoon.
Friday tee times
McIlroy, though, who teed off at 09:26 alongside fellow youngsters Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama, could well put himself firmly in contention with the rain and wind set to ease around 3pm.
The Northern Irishman was relentless from the off, narrowly missing a short birdie putt at the first before making up for that miss at the next to get to minus one. At the third, it was a similar story to his opening hole as another makable birdie putt slipped by the hole.
At that point, it seemed as if it might be one of those days for the former US Open and US PGA winner, but he refused to let those misses affect his game and at five and six, he finally got the rewards his early play has deserved as consecutive birdies took him to three under with 12 holes to play.
He comfortably rattled off three pars to turn in 33, and when another birdie followed at 10, he joined early leaders Fowler and Manaserro at the top. He quickly moved ahead with another birdie, this time at par-four 12th, and for the first time of the 143rd Open, he had the solo lead.
21-year-old Italian Manaserro, though, was producing a sublime 18 holes of his own and when he birdied three of his final four holes, he set the clubhouse lead at minus five thanks to a 67 that saw him mix seven birdies with two bogeys and nine pars.
McIlroy refused to accept a 67 though and his immensely powerful hitting saw him card another par-five birdie, this time at the reasonably short 16th. He could not repeat the trick at the last, however, but he can be more than satisfied with his opening day exploits.
Crucial second round
This sort of performance on a Thursday from the Ulsterman is to be expected, and he will know as well as anyone the real test will be whether he can sustain that sort of performance in his second round, which he has famously struggled to do in the past and in particular, this season.
In the build up to the third major of the season, McIlroy himself admitted that his Friday failings had "gotten into his head a bit". He has produced dazzling first-round displays at both the Memorial tournament in May and last week's Scottish Open to lead before inexplicably falling off the pace the following day.
Incredibly, he is a combined 57-under par for all of his opening rounds in 2014, but to counter that, he is plus nine for his second rounds. If he can arrest this Friday decline, he will take some catching over the course of the next three days in the north west of England.
One man who will be relishing the challenge of hunting down McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard will be his friend Woods, who was equally as impressive for differing reasons on his return to major championship golf.
Despite opening with two bogeys - the second a three putt - he rallied magnificently on the back nine to put himself firmly in contention for a 15th major title at a course he has triumphed on before.
After turning in 36 following a solid if not spectacular opening nine, the 79-time PGA Tour winner appeared to settle into his stride and his round received the impetus it desperately needed when he holed a putt from off the 11th green to spark a run of five birdies in six holes.
With no signs of his back causing any discomfort, his iron game flourished and his putting did not disappoint like it has in recent times, and when he parred the final hole after twice pulling away from his second shot following crowd noise, he was in with a more-than-satisfactory first day 69 that sees him just three off the early pace set by his heir apparent McIlroy.
The weather looks set to favour them going into Friday, and anything close to a level-par for any of those in the red - which is certainly more than you'd expect at an Open championship - will see them remain well in contention heading into the weekend.
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