By Andrew Both
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - American Kevin Kisner put a mediocre links record behind him to surge to the clubhouse lead with a five-under-par 66 in the first round at the British Open on Thursday.
An early eagle followed by a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th hole vaulted Kisner one stroke ahead of South African Erik van Rooyen in ideal morning conditions at a relatively tame Carnoustie.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth was not a model of accuracy, and it finally caught up with the Texan as he dropped four shots in the final four holes for a 72.
World number 33 Kisner has not finished better than equal 54th in three appearances at the Open, but is coming to terms with a type of game rarely played on the soft and lush courses of the U.S. PGA Tour.
"Getting accustomed to links golf is something you have to do where we come from," Kisner said.
"The ball's running 50 to 80 yards on certain shots.
"I didn't think it was as firm today as it has been, but I also played at 7:50 in the morning.
"I think I only hit four drivers all day, maybe five. I just want the ball on the fairway because it's not an overly long golf course."
Van Rooyen, meanwhile, showed few nerves in his first round in a major championship.
Out in the second group of the day at 6:46 a.m., he never looked back after birdies at the first two holes.
His card was unblemished until a bogey at the par-four 18th, where he sank a six-foot putt to avoid dropping two shots.
Van Rooyen, ranked 144th in the world, has been in good form lately. He led the Irish Open by four strokes heading into the final round two weeks ago, before fading to finish equal fourth.
He said he had tried to adopt the mindset that the Open was just another tournament.
"My game plan on every hole is to try and make birdie," he said.
"I was obviously a little nervous, but that's natural. I'm really proud of how I handled it.
"It was playing as easy as it was going to play this whole week this morning, no wind at all, so you had to go out and take advantage of it."
Earlier, veteran Scot Sandy Lyle, the champion way back in 1985, had the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m.
With the stands next to the tee barely half full, Lyle was greeted with warm applause as he striped an iron down the middle of the bone-dry fairway on the way to shooting 75.
Barely a hint of a breeze was evident on another delightful summer morning on the east coast of Scotland.
Players were greeted by the most parched fairways in recent memory, perhaps even browner and drier than at the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool.
World number one Dustin Johnson and 14-times major champion Tiger Woods were among those with late tee times.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ian Chadband)