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Kisner leads British Open as McIlroy, Woods prepare to begin charge

© AFP | Kevin Kisner plays out of a green-side bunker on the 18th hole during his first-round 66 on the opening day at Carnoustie

CARNOUSTIE (UNITED KINGDOM) (AFP) - 

Kevin Kisner of the United States surged to the top of the early British Open leaderboard on Thursday as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods prepared for afternoon starts at Carnoustie.

Kisner went out in one of the first groups just before 8am (0700 GMT) and had an eagle and four birdies in his five-under-par round of 66 on a perfect summer's morning on Scotland's east coast.

"The golf course is great for me. The conditions have been fine," said the 34-year-old, who led going into the final round of last year's US PGA Championship before dropping away to finish tied for seventh.

"Going forward, you never know what you're going to have in Scotland. I know the rain is coming in tomorrow. I don't think the rain is going to affect how the golf course is playing in one day, but I have to just keep doing what I'm doing."

Americans have won the last five majors and will take some beating this week, with reigning champion Jordan Spieth, world number one Dustin Johnson and Woods all hoping to be in contention.

- South Africans start strongly -

Another early starter taking advantage of the ideal summer weather in Carnoustie was South Africa's Erik van Rooyen.

On his Open debut, Van Rooyen went out in the second group of the day at 6:46am and shot a four-under 67, the only flaw on his scorecard coming with a bogey at the last.

Van Rooyen was far from the only player to struggle at the 18th, the scene of Frenchman Jean Van de Velde's infamous meltdown in 1999, when he frittered away a three-shot lead on the last day as he tried to play out of the Barry Burn.

However, it was still a fine start for the 28-year-old, who qualified for his first British Open by coming second at the Joburg Open.

"It was playing as easy as it was going to play this whole week this morning, no wind at all. I think it's going to pick up from now onwards. So you had to go out and take advantage of it," said Van Rooyen, whose compatriot Brandon Stone shot a three-under 68.

Stone has come to Carnoustie fresh from a spectacular final round of 60 to win the Scottish Open at Gullane last weekend, and South Africans have previous at winning the Claret Jug in these parts.

The legendary Gary Player won at Carnoustie back in 1968, while Ernie Els won at Muirfield in 2012 and Louis Oosthuizen triumphed at St Andrews in 2010, two other venues on Scotland's North Sea coast.

Spieth, looking to retain the title he won at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago, was another early starter looking to make headway, but compatriot Phil Mickelson had a disappointing two-over-par round of 73.

Johnson teed off just after 1pm local time in a group behind McIlroy, who is looking to end a four-year major drought at the venue where he was the leading amateur as a teenager back in 2007.

Other afternoon starters include reigning PGA champion Justin Thomas, Australia's Jason Day and Ireland's Padraig Harrington, winner of the last Open here 11 years ago.

The biggest crowds, however, will probably be with Woods, who was due to tee off at 3:21pm alongside Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Scotland's top-ranked golfer, Russell Knox.

No Scottish player has won a major since Paul Lawrie here in 1999, and it seems unlikely that Sandy Lyle will be the one to end that particular drought this weekend.

Now 60, Lyle was the Open champion back in 1985 and had the honour of playing the first tee shot at 6:35am, only to end with a round of 75, four over par.

© 2018 AFP