AUSTRLAIAN Marc Leishman has made the most of glorious conditions at Royal Liverpool to put himself in the early mix at the British Open.
Morning starter Leishman carded an impressive three-under-par 69 in his opening round on Thursday to sit just one shot adrift of early clubhouse leaders, American Brooks Koepka and Italian Edoardo Molinari.
As Tiger Woods made a shaky start in his much-anticipated return to major golf, Leishman was strong and steady in calm, sunny conditions at Hoylake.
The Victorian, playing in the fourth group of the day, made birdies on three of the historic course's four par 5s, with a bogey on the par-4 12th the only blemish on his card.
He could have gone even lower had he converted a string of makeable birdie putts on the back nine, but Leishman was satisfied with his start.
"I said to my caddie on about the third or fourth hole `I've really got to go low today'," Leishman said.
"It was definitely in my mind that I needed to take advantage of the benign conditions.
"If it gets windy tomorrow afternoon, I might need a couple of shots up my sleeve."
Leishman is no stranger to contending early in a major, having done so at last year's US Masters, but he's bidding to make his mark at the British Open for the first time having never finished better than 60th.
"I hit the ball probably as well as I have all year today," Leishman said.
"It's definitely a good start and something to build on."
Fellow Australian Matt Jones, another early-morning starter, also made an encouraging start, recovering superbly to card a one-under 71 after making double bogeys on the third and fourth holes.
Jones birdied the first three holes on the back nine and finished with an eagle on the par-5 18th, chipping in from the bunker to cap a tremendous fightback.
"It was a tough start but I've been hitting it well this week and I knew if I kept going I could get it back," said Jones, playing in his first British Open.
Woods, playing in his first major since back surgery, started poorly with bogeys on the first two holes.
However the American legend had clawed his way back into the red with birdies on the fifth, 11th and 12th holes.
Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Americans Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk were all on target to post strong opening-round scores.
Australian big guns Adam Scott and Jason Day will begin their rounds in the afternoon.
Day tees off at 10:38pm (AEST) alongside major winners Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson.
Scott, equal tournament favourite with Justin Rose, starts at 11:27pm in another heavyweight group featuring Jason Dufner and Justin Rose.
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