Ian Poulter was booed on the first tee as the 150th Open got under way on the Old Course in St Andrews on Thursday.
English amateur Barclay Brown and Kurt Kitayama of the United States shared the early clubhouse lead after posting four-under-par morning rounds of 68.
Kitayama enjoyed a flawless round with four birdies and no bogeys, while Brown’s round featured just a single dropped shot.
Poulter, the 46-year-old Englishman who has had three top-10 finishes in The Open, is one of 24 players in this week’s lineup who agreed to join the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Series.
After being jeered by the galleries as he took to the tee in one of the first groups of the day, he hit his tee shot way left and almost finished out of bounds on the far side of the 18th fairway.
However, he recovered to shoot a three-under-par 69 in a round that included a mammoth eagle putt at the par-four 9th.
Poulter later insisted he did not hear any jeers from the crowds.
“I actually thought I had a great reception on the first tee, to be honest. All I heard was clapping,” said Poulter. “I shot three under. I was quite happy. I was nice and relaxed.”
Former Open champion Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia are also among the LIV Series members who are at St Andrews.
Open organisers the R&A opted not to ban the rebels, in contrast to moves made by the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
However, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers issued strong criticism of the Saudi-backed series, which offers prize money of $25-million for each 54-hole event, compared to a $14m prize pot for this week’s Open.
The LIV model, he said on Wednesday, “is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money”.
“It undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special,” he added.
Golfers in St Andrews this week are competing to succeed Collin Morikawa, the Californian who won the Claret Jug last year at Royal St George’s.
In cool but calm morning conditions that favoured shot-making, the early pace was set by the unheralded Brown, a 21-year-old Sheffield-native who secured his Open berth in qualifying last month and sported a bucket hat as he went out in the second group of the day.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee, who teed off in the very first group, shot a three-under 69, recovering from a double-bogey six at the 3rd hole.
Many believe a new record low score for a Major could be posted if good condition continue this week, beating Branden Grace’s 62 in The Open at Birkdale five years ago.
However, stronger winds forecast in the afternoon could present stiffer challenges to later starters including Tiger Woods, the two-time Open champion at St Andrews who was due to tee off at 2:59pm.
McIlroy, who went out with Morikawa and Xander Schauffele, the Olympic champion, is aiming to win the Claret Jug for the second time.
The Northern Irishman won the 2014 Open at Hoylake but missed the chance to defend his title a year later in the last Open at St Andrews after injuring an ankle playing football.
England’s former US Open champion Justin Rose withdrew just before his scheduled tee time on Thursday due to a back injury.
His place was taken by Rikuya Hoshino of Japan, while South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen pulled out with a neck injury to be replaced by Aaron Rai of England.
The course is hosting the championship for the 30th time, the first since Zach Johnson won here in 2015 after foul weather delayed the finish until the Monday.
The Open is expecting record attendances for the week of 290,000, meaning galleries will be packed for the first championship since the end of pandemic-related restrictions.
© Agence France-Presse