(CNN) -- Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez rolled home a long birdie putt on the 18th to snatch the British Open lead from a trio that included veteran Tom Watson.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was superb from tee to green in his first round 64.
The Ryder Cup star capped a flawless, six-birdie round with his monster 66-foot putt, to record a six-under 64. Jimenez held a one-shot lead over Watson, Curtis and Japan's Kenichi Kuboya, who each carded 65s on the Ailsa Course.
"A great putt with great pace and six meters short of the hole I knew it was in," Jimenez told BBC Sport.
World number one and pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods is way off the pace after the first round with a one-over 71.
It was a vintage display from 59-year-old Watson, who won the 1977 British Open and 2003 British Seniors Open on the same Ayrshire links.
Watson, who emerged the winner in the famous 'duel in the sun' with fellow legend Jack Nicklaus in 1977, was off to a fast start with birdies at the first and third holes.
He added two more at the 10th and 12th as his match started to attract a larger gallery. Watch Watson describe how Thursday felt like a "walk down Memory Lane" »
Two fine hits to the edge of the par-five 17th and then an excellent chip and a putt took him to five-under and into the outright lead.
Watson had a birdie opportunity on the final hole but it rolled six-foot past and to a roar from the gallery kept his nerve to make sure his round did not include a bogey.
Watson was not the only former winner to make an early impression as 49-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, who won at Troon in 1989, was the first man in the clubhouse with a three-under 67 and he was joined on that mark by fellow American veteran Mark O'Meara.
But 54-year-old Australian Greg Norman, who led going into the final round at Royal Birkdale last year, could not recapture that magic as he toiled to a seven-over 77.
Woods, who was also an early starter, could not take advantage of benign conditions with a wayward display from tee to green which cost him four bogeys.
The last came as he found the water at Wilson's Burn on the 16th to take him over par.
"I certainly made a few mistakes out there," Woods said. "Realistically, I probably should have shot about one or two under par."
Curtis, the shock winner of the 2003 British Open at Royal St George's, shrugged off a pair of bogeys with an eagle at the par-5 seventh and birdies on four of his last six holes.
Denmark's Soren Hansen also got to five under, only to fall back with a double bogey at the 16th. but on a day of low scoring many of golf's elite were still in contention after the opening day of the third major of the season.
Defending two-time champion Padraig Harrington kept his hopes alive of a third straight British Open title with a battling one-under 69.