A sublime eight-under-par round of 64 ensured Cameron Young ended a low-scoring opening day of The 150th Open as the clubhouse leader.
The 25-year-old is making his Championship debut but showed no sign of nerves to set the standard on a course he has played just once before – aged 13.
Rory McIlroy sits just two shots behind after a stirring performance, bookended by excellent birdies, saw the Northern Irishman record his lowest opening round since he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool eight years ago.
The 2014 Champion is not the only world-class operator lurking in the wings after a day that favoured the morning starters, who took advantage of the lighter winds.
Cameron Smith finished on -5 and was later joined by Robert Dinwiddie, while eight players, ranging from world No.1 Scottie Scheffler to amateur Barclay Brown, signed for 68s and will resume a shot clear of a clutch of talent on -3, including Olympic champion Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau.
Dinwiddie birdied 18 to finish as the leading Englishman, while Lee Westwood and Brown were just a shot behind on four-under, just ahead of Ian Poulter, Danny Willett and John Parry. Meanwhile, home favourite Robert MacIntyre posted a 70 to keep the Scottish flag flying.
Elsewhere, there were contrasting fortunes for popular former Champions. Ernie Els rolled back the years and had a share of second at one stage before a late wobble saw him drop back to -2 while Tiger Woods found the going tough, posting a 78.
YOUNG SETS THE PACE
Cameron Young needed permission to play off the back tees the last time he did battle with the Old Course but he started his Open bow reminiscent of a man who knew it like the back of his hand.
He set off like an express train and arrived at the 7th tee with four birdies already under his belt, Young among the many players who profited at the par-5 5th across the day.
A delightful chip from within metres of the greenside stand on the 9th set up another birdie, which took him to the turn in 31 and his momentum continued on his way back towards town.
Consecutive birdies at 11 and 12 left him seven-under and his excellent approach play continued to set up chances, with Young hitting all 18 greens in regulation for the first time in his career since joining the PGA Tour.
He missed opportunities at 15 and 16 but was in no mood to do likewise down the last, finishing a near-flawless round in fitting fashion.
A stonking 372-yard drive to the back of the green was followed by a two-putt to add another dash of red to a card that contained no bogeys and will see him enter day two at the summit.
The American, who tied for third at the PGA Championship earlier this year, said: “Any time you are around the lead in a major championship or any PGA TOUR event, you get more and more comfortable every time.
“Whether I am leading by three or one or four after today, I'll sleep just fine.”
Young’s exploits were inspiring his playing partners, too. Kim Joo-Hyung (-3) and MacIntyre (-2) also finished under-par, ensuring the trio were one of just two groups to each finish in the red.
The other contained Scheffler, who birdied three-in-a-row between 3 and 5 on his way to -4, Joaquin Niemann (-3) and Tyrrell Hatton (-2).
RORY ON A ROLL
Any group including Rory McIlroy is worthy of close attention and when it also includes Collin Morikawa and Schauffele, the dial moves to unmissable
It was McIlroy who set the tone for the trio, a 50-foot putt getting his round off to a flyer before three birdies on the spin between the 5th and 7th really got the sizeable crowd going.
The 33-year-old was in relaxed mood throughout and even the impact of the only blemish on his card, at the par-4 13th, was lessened by the fact it was sandwiched by birdies, a sublime approach from the greenside rough at 14 allowing him to instantly regain the shot he had lost.
A nerveless putt saw him save par on the notoriously tough 17th, which halted Schauffele’s momentum, and a birdie on the last nudged him ahead of Smith and Dinwiddie and into second on his own.
Schauffele, who arrived fresh from Genesis Scottish Open success last week, started with a bogey but was quickly into his stride and will begin Friday handily placed while reigning Champion Morikawa was unusually inconsistent and needed a birdie on the last to bring him back to level par.
BROWN HEADS AMATEUR CHARGE
It is a good time to be associated with Hallamshire Golf Club. A month after Matt Fitzpatrick’s triumph at the US Open, it was 21-year-old amateur Barclay Brown’s time to shine at St Andrews.
Heading out as part of the second group, the early start posed no problems for Brown, who picked up birdies at 7 and 9 to sit well placed at the turn.
A dropped shot followed at the 10th but he kept a cool head under the bucket hat and saved the best of his five birdies until last, draining a monster putt on the 17th.
Brown sits four shots clear of his nearest amateur challengers, Sam Bairstow and Keita Nakajima, and was one of several home nations stars to shine on the opening day.
Dinwiddie made six birdies in his 67, Westwood was home in 68, while Poulter sunk a 54-yard eagle putt at the 9th on his way to three-under-par. Parry and Willett also banked eagles, at the 14th and 18th respectively.
Brown’s clubmate Fitzpatrick, posted 72 – one shy of Paul Casey, who had a round of two halves having reached the turn at four-under-par.
LEGENDS ENDURE CONTRASTING FORTUNES
Ernie Els loves an Open year ending in two. Having lifted the Claret Jug in 2002 and 2012, his bid for a remarkable treble began brilliantly, with four birdies in five holes between the 8th and 12th taking him to five-under-par.
Like so many before him however, he fell victim to the 17th. An errant tee shot flew out of bounds into the Old Course Hotel grounds and he eventually scraped a double bogey and signed for a 70.
Els enjoyed a better time of it than Woods, who was on the back foot from the moment his tee shot found a divot on the 1st fairway. His approach found the Swilcan burn and a double bogey was the result.
It was one of several tricky moments for the three-time Champion, who recovered somewhat with birdies either side of the turn but has it all to do if he is to make the cut.
And while all the attention was on Paul Lawrie’s first tee shot, it was his last that provided one of the day’s highlights.
The 1999 Champion, who got the action underway at 6.35am, successfully drove the green and sunk his eagle putt to finish on +2 and give him a shot at continuing his progress into the weekend.