The Craigielaw player carded a four-under-par 67 at the Ayrshire venue to head into his second round at neighbouring Gailes Links sharing pole position in the battle to make the top 64 for the match-play stage.
Carrick, who emulated his dad David, the 1985 winner at Southerness, as he landed the title at Murcar Links 12 months ago, birdied the first, fifth, eighth, ninth and 16th, with his only dropped shot coming at the fourth.
In one of the strongest fields for the event in recent years, Aldeburgh’s Gregor Tait was next best at Western Gailes with a 68 while Blairgowrie 15-year-old Connor Graham signed for one-under along with John Paterson (New Golf Club St Andrews) and Jack Reynolds (Rothesay).
Graham, who recently won the R&A Junior Open at Monifieth Golf Links, lost to Carrick in the semi-finals last year, when, at just 14, he created history as the youngest player to reach that stage.
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Carnoustie’s Scott Mann led the way on day one at Gailes Links with a four-under 67 that was equally impressive as Carrick’s effort.
In his case, that was the best of the day by two shots, with Eight players signing for 69s at the recent Open Final Qualifying venue.
They included Kirkhill’s Lewis Irvine, the 2019 beaten finalist, Dunbar’s Jamie Duguid and Craig Chalmers, who will now be looking to make local knowledge count in his second round at home club Western Gailes.
Williamwood’s George Burns, who beat Irvine in the final at Crail three years ago, signed for one-under at Gailes Links along with Gullane duo Thomas Simmonds and Oliver Mukherjee.
New Lothians champion Connor Wilson, last year’s beaten finalist from Castle Park, made a solid start with a level-par effort at Galles Links, as did Royal Burgess left-hander Cameron Adam.
Among those facing a fight to make the knock-out stage are Auchterarer’s Rory Franssen and Gregor Graham, Connor’s big brother, after 74 and 75 at Western Gailes.