Rory McIlroy began his quest for the Open Championship with a one-over-par round of 71 on day one at Sandwich.
The 22-year-old US Open champion, in the 0909 BST tee time usually reserved for the absent Tiger Woods, bogeyed two of his opening three holes.
But he made birdies at the eighth and 17th, and just missed another birdie opportunity from 10 feet at the last.
World number one Luke Donald and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood also opened with rounds of 71.
McIlroy, who had not struck a shot in tournament play since his magnificent , fired his approach shots at each of the opening three holes through the back of the green.
His playing partner Rickie Fowler, also 22, holed a superb 30-foot putt from the fringe just off the putting surface at the first but McIlroy, just a few inches closer, sent his effort five feet past on the left and missed the return for par.
Having made par at the second, his chip from a fluffy lie at the third raced 10 feet by to take him to two over but he collected his first birdie with an eight-foot putt at the eighth.
At the 13th a curling five-footer for par stayed on the left edge for his third bogey of the day.
The par five 14th presented an obvious opportunity but having found an awkward spot in the bunker with one foot in and one out, he could only advance the ball a few yards out of the trap some 30 feet from the cup and made par.
However, a magnificent approach to five feet at the 17th set up another birdie.
"It was OK, it was a tough day and I had to stay really patient. I knew I wasn't going to get too many chances for birdies but I'm happy with the way I've started. When you don't play a tournament for a few weeks you are itching to get back out there," he told BBC Sport.
"As long as I can keep it around level par it's going to be a good total and hopefully if I can do that then I'll come close. I feel very fresh, I'm hitting the ball as good as I have done."
Donald, having matched two birdies with two dropped shots on his outward nine, went over par for the first time at the 13th when his second shot found thick rough to the right of the green.
His chip finished 12 feet short and after appearing strangely indecisive over the putt he saw it miss on the left side.
A putt of similar length for a birdie on the 14th also drifted by and another shot went at the 15th when he putted from off the green below the level of the putting surface and could not make the one back for par.
But a fine approach from the rough at the 17th rolled back to seven feet to set up a birdie and he had another chance at the last, leaving the putt a foot out to the right.
"I felt like I played a pretty solid round other than some missed opportunities on the greens," said Donald.
"I had three or four lip-outs and a few other opportunities that went amiss. It really could have been a very good round.
"A 71 is still solid, but it certainly could have been a little bit better if I'd have had the putter going."
Despite having some of the best conditions on the opening day, Westwood struggled in the early part of his round and was three over after five holes.
But he regained his composure and had four birdies and two bogeys in his closing 12 holes to end up six shots off the lead.
Ian Poulter began with a round of 69, finishing well with birdies at the 16th and 17th.
The 35-year-old world number 16 had a 20-foot putt at the last to make it three birdies in a row but left it a couple of inches short.
"I'm happy with the finish," said Poulter. "It would have been disappointing to finish today over par with the shots that I executed on the golf course.
"I couldn't have asked to hit the ball any better. There were a couple of par saves but apart from that it was pretty flawless.
"The way I've played and the shots I've hit - and the tough shots I've hit - I'm very happy. I definitely think I've got a chance if I play like I did today. I don't feel the need to go to the range to do any work."
Four-time major winner Phil Mickelson had a relatively calm day, carding two birdies and two bogeys for an opening 70 to join a group on level par that includes Spain's Sergio Garcia, 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard and Dustin Johnson of the United States, who claimed a hole-in-one at the par-three 16th.
Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen had four bogeys in an opening 72, which is two strokes better than England's Paul Casey, while two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington carded a 73.
"There were times when I hit the ball solidly but my short game was poor, I didn't chip well," said the 39-year-old Dubliner. "I need to be tighter around the greens tomorrow. I'm eight behind but there's still 54 holes to go."