There were encouraging signs of life for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, but it was Kevin Kisner followed by a phalanx of South Africans that led on Carnoustie’s best scoring day since the Open returned here in 1999.
The 34-year-old Kisner sparked from an eagle at the sixth but it was his tenacious three par saves down Carnoustie’s fearsome final three holes that got him in with a 66.
That leads by one from two young South Africans, Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard, and from Kisner’s highly-rated, big-hitting compatriot Tony Finau, all of whom had four-under 67s. All the leader benefitted from early tee times as the wind took time to get up across the Championship Course.
Of the big names, McIlroy’s 69, despite “the worst driving day I’ll have this week” was the best. World No 2 Justin Thomas toughed out the same score, while another South African, Scottish open champion Brandon Stone, followed up his 60 at Guillane with a 68 at Carnoustie.
However there were plenty of early casualties as various strategies were tried to exploit a rock-hard, fast-running course, with varying levels of success. World No 1 Dustin Johnson went with the big stick and never settled, triple-bogeying the 18th for a 76.
Phil Mickelson toiled to a 73, while defending champion Jordan Spieth, three under with four to play, finished with a one-over 72.
For Woods, it was his best start to a major in his last nine starts at two-under on the front nine, but his strategy of irons off every tee was only partially successful on his way to par round of 71.
Playing with patches on the back of his neck because of discomfort, the three-time champion had his best start to a major since he returned from long-term injury.