ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - David Lingmerth took full advantage of perfect scoring conditions as the Swede started his round with four consecutive birdies in the early stages of the 144th British Open at St Andrews on Thursday.
Australian Rod Pampling struck the first tee shot a little after 6:30 a.m. (0530 GMT), the 45-year-old playing alongside England's Greg Owen and Denmark's twice former runner-up Thomas Bjorn, with all three finding 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.
But it was Lingmerth, on his British Open debut, who made the first move with a lightning start alongside the Fife coast, rolling in birdies on his first four holes to lead.
Irish amateur Paul Dunne was three under after six, with Bjorn also reaching three under.
Only five of the first 27 starters in the 156-strong field were over par after an hour and a half of the opening day.
Winds are expected to remain light with no rain forecast on Thursday, although breezes will gain strength later.
The grandstands will be full once pre-tournament favorite Jordan Spieth tees off in his quest for a third consecutive major at 9:33 a.m., playing alongside fellow American Dustin Johnson and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.
Twice former St Andrews champion Tiger Woods goes off at 9:55 a.m. alongside 2010 winner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Australia's Jason Day.
Five-times winner Tom Watson, making his farewell appearance at the tournament, was due on the first tee at 8:33 a.m, the 65-year-old playing alongside twice former champion Ernie Els.
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.
World number one Rory McIlroy is not defending his title after injuring his ankle playing football.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly/John O'Brien)