Adam Scott equalled the Royal Lytham & St Annes course record for an Open Championship with a 64 to lead after Thursday's first round.
The Australian, who was 32 on Monday, set the early pace at six under in perfect scoring conditions on Thursday morning and stayed in front by one shot from Scotland's 1999 champion Paul Lawrie, former Masters winner Zach Johnson and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.
Major champions Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson and Graeme McDowell are all at three under, alongside American Steve Stricker, Sweden's Peter Hanson and Japan's Toshinori Muto.
England's world number one Luke Donald shot level-par 70, as did Ireland's two-time champion Padraig Harrington.
But third-ranked Lee Westwood struggled with his game despite playing in the best of the weather early on and carded a three-over 73 after starting with two birdies. Phil Mickelson, who was runner-up last year, also took 73.
Defending champion Darren Clarke compiled a six-over 76 and said he was "disgusted with himself".
Scott, who is still chasing a first major title after finishing as runner-up in the Masters last year, had the chance to create history when he stood seven under with two to play, needing one more birdie for the first ever round of 62 in any major.
However, a bogey on the 18th after pulling a two iron off the tee meant Scott had to settle for equalling the lowest Open round at Lytham, which was set by Tom Lehman on his way to the Claret Jug in 1996.
"I know there's never been a 62 and when I was waiting to use the bathroom going to the 17th tee I did a look at the leaderboard and realised it was a par-70," said world number 13 Scott, who has Woods's former caddie Steve Williams on the bag.
"I also probably then realised that I wasn't going to be the guy to shoot 62. It's one of those things that you don't want to go through your mind, thinking about your final score and stuff like that.
"So I got rid of that quickly and got on to playing the 17th, but unfortunately dropped one up the last."
The 43-year-old Lawrie, who profited from Jean van de Velde's meltdown to win the Open in a play-off at Carnoustie, has recently rediscovered his drive and is targeting a return to European Ryder Cup duties in September.
"I heard my name quite a lot today, which down in England you can be a wee bit surprised about. It's nice," said Lawrie, who won in Qatar in March.
"It's the Open and everyone is here to support the British players as well as everyone else. I hit some nice shots for them."
Northern Ireland's McIlroy was keen to make amends for a disappointing 25th-place finish last year off the back of his record-breaking US Open triumph, and said his 67 put him in a "great position" heading into Friday.
The 23-year-old was in trouble on the 15th when his ball hit a spectator on the head and went out-of-bounds en route to a double bogey.
But McIlroy said his two birdies in the last three holes "would make dinner taste very nice".
"The most important thing was that he was OK," said McIlroy, who gave the bandaged man a signed glove. "I would have felt terrible if it had been worse than what it was."
Three-time champion Woods, chasing a 15th major title and a first since the 2008 US Open, was pleased with how he played.
"I felt I had pretty good control, I shaped the ball both ways," said the 36-year-old, who has won three times this season.
"Sometimes I rode the wind, sometimes I held it against it. I had certain sections I wanted to put the ball in and I did that all day. I only hit one putt that was off line. I just need to hit my putts a bit harder. The greens are not quick, so I've got to make an adjustment."
Donald had a round of pars, punctuated by a single birdie on the third, until dropping a shot on the 18th to end even.
"I hit a lot of good drives, some pretty solid irons and hit a lot of greens," he said.
"That last hole leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Still it's hopefully a round I can build off."
Masters champion Watson, 2002 Open winner Els and 2010 US Open champion McDowell also took advantage of the benign early conditions on the Fylde coast.
Northern Ireland's McDowell, who finished as runner-up to Webb Simpson in last month's US Open, claimed he would have paid a "few quid" for a 67 before he teed off.
The 42-year-old Els, a two-time US Open champion, is also experiencing a resurgence and finished ninth at the US Open at Olympic club last month.
"It's all about confidence and it's starting to grow a little in me," said Els, who has had 12 top-10 finishes in the Open.
Wales' Jamie Donaldson, who won the recent Irish Open at Portrush, and England's James Morrison were in a large group on two under.