Graeme McDowell came within a whisker of shooting the lights out in the Open - then vowed not to shave until he wins.

After firing a two under par 68 to keep the leaders in his sights, he’s got no plans to trim the five o’clock shadow he sported at Turnberry yesterday.

Determined to defy his mother Marian, who hates his bearded look, he said: “I’m not a big fan of shaving, just working on something new. I might not shave it until I win again, although my mother will be begging me to shave it off tonight, I know she will.”

As Darren Clarke hit a one over 71, David Higgins a 73 and Damien McGrane a nightmare 78, McDowell was pleased with an opening effort that could easily have been three shots better.

After birdies at the first, third and fifth gave him a share the championship lead on three under par, he bogeyed the sixth and eighth to crash down the leaderboard.

But he birdied the ninth from 40 feet to turn in 33 and then rammed home a 25 footer for a two at the par-three 15th to get back to three under.

A double bogey at the 16th, where he shoved his six-iron into the burn that surrounds the green, could have been a massive blow.

But he battled back to birdie on the long 17th and finish the day feeling positive about his chances.

Looking on the bright side, McDowell said: “The 16th was disappointing because I hit very few bad shots today and paid a very heavy price for one there today. But I really can’t complain, I hung in there well today and putted lovely and gave myself lots of chances.”

Having led the Open after the first round in 2006 and again last year, he knows there’s no point in topping the leaderboard after day one and hopes to build on his solid start over the next three days.

He explained: “I guess there’s no point in leading the Open on Thursday. I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work. So I’m quite content to post my two-under, sit back and maybe creep up on them all this weekend.

“I know I’ve got the game to be there or thereabouts come Sunday. I’ve got to get the breaks, I’ve got to hit the shots at the right times and I’ve got to hole the putts but patience is the key really."

Veteran Clarke, 40, had three birdies in his 71 but was frustrated by two bogeys and a double bogey six at the 10th where he three putted from the front of the green.

Complaining that he just can't convert his good play into solid scores, Clarke groaned: “I’m hitting shots in tournament play that I’m not hitting in practice.

“I'm making mistakes and just can’t quite get any momentum going at the moment. It’s a bit of a fight or a battle to keep things going.

"I just can’t quite reproduce the shots that I am hitting in practice but, overall, one-over par is not a bad start, I could’ve been worse.”

Waterville star Higgins hit just six of 14 fairways and was disappointed with a three over par 73 that featured a double bogey six at the fourth as well as two birdies and three bogeys.

Before heading to the range to work on his driving, Higgins said: “I’m a bit disappointed. I said when I got here that you have to hit the fairways off the tee and I didn’t do that.”

McGrane salvaged something from a nightmare day when he birdied the last from 12 feet for an eight over 78.

After three putting twice, he said: “It’s links golf and it bites hard. And I was hitting good shots into bunkers and three putting everywhere. All the stuff that you just do not do in majors, I did it all today.

“I probably should have shot four over but to shoot eight over is certainly disappointing. I feel like I played better than that but such is life."