On a course he had played hundreds of times since his teens, Montgomerie moved in contention with three birdies on the front nine. He then overcame a mid-round crisis before recovering with two birdies for a 2-under-par 69.
'I was delighted,' Montgomerie said. 'I went out with one thought, and I told my caddie on the first tee, whatever happens today we're going to enjoy ourselves.'
It was the second best start in 15 Opens for Montgomerie, who imploded on this very course with an opening 76 seven years ago when he was Europe's top golfer and seemingly destined for a run at the one major he wants the most.
At 41, it is undoubtedly the Scotsman's last real chance at Royal Troon, where his father was once club secretary and where from age 16 on he honed his skills on the seaside links.
He arrived with baggage -- his marriage heading for divorce court and photographs of his wife with another man in the tabloids. He also arrived with a calmer sense of purpose. This is a player famous for storming off courses after failing at a major.
'This Open couldn't be at a better time, a better place right now for me,' he said after a round that included five birdies, three on 20-foot putts.
Though Montgomerie finished at 69, he had to regroup from the sort of trouble that could have finished him off at another time.
After three birdies on the front nine, Montgomerie double bogeyed the 10th after his second shot rolled down a greenside bank. He then pitched right through the green for his third. He followed with a bogey 5 at 11 after driving into a bush.
Montgomerie credited the fans who cheered his every move.
'I must say, I thank them terrifically for helping me on the 12th green,' he said. 'When I approached the 12th green, knowing I had dropped three shots in the last 20 minutes, that (applause) was fantastic and it enabled me to continue my round, so all thanks to them.'
Montgomerie won the Singapore Masters in March but hasn't had a top-10 finish since. He acknowledges his game is a long way from the streak in the 1990s when he led the European money list a record seven straight years.
The title in Singapore was his first outright victory in almost three years.
With his private life hitting the headlines and his 14-year marriage at an end, he says he has been receiving support from the public everywhere he goes.
'From taxi drivers in London stopping to people in the street to people at airports to anybody I meet in the public eye, I'm getting terrific support from everywhere, not just on the golf course,' he said.
'The letters of support I'm receiving, written and through e-mail, are quite incredible.'
Montgomerie hasn't ducked his problems and says he is emerging a better person.
'I'm not shying away from anything and I'm enjoying the whole experience of playing here in the Open championship,' he said. 'Whether that score is 75 or 65, I was going to enjoy myself.'
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