ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Australian Rod Pampling struck the first shot of the 144th British Open at a St Andrews on Thursday as the third major of the year got going in calm conditions on the Fife coast.
The 45-year-old and playing partners Greg Owen from England and Denmark's twice former runner-up Thomas Bjorn all found the middle of the invitingly wide fairway on the 375-yard par four.
A sprinkling of supporters were already on the famous Old Course 7,297 yard par 72 links as Pampling and Bjorn both made safe pars, while Owen birdied.
The day's early starters in the 156-strong field are expected to benefit from ideal playing conditions, if a little chilly, with winds increasing for the day's later groups.
The grandstands will be full once pre-tournament favorite Jordan Spieth of the United States tees off his quest for a third consecutive major at 9.33am local time, playing alongside fellow American Dustin Johnson and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.
Twice former St Andrews champion Tiger Woods goes off at 9.55 alongside 2010 winner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Australia's Jason Day.
Weather conditions for the rest of the tournament are expected to be challenging with higher winds and rain forecast for Friday and Saturday, although calmer conditions should return in time for Sunday's decisive final round.
This is the 30th time the British Open has been hosted at St Andrews. Rory McIlroy is not defending his title after injuring his ankle playing soccer.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)