It was a sound start all ‘round for the Irish invaders after the opening day of The British Masters at Close House.
Best of the bunch were Paul Dunne and Graeme McDowell who fired a pair of 66s to sit in a tie for 13th at four under par. Both men started from the back nine, McDowell enduring his only black mark on the 18th, his 9th – a double bogey five in an otherwise flawless round of golf that included six birdies.
Greystone’s golfer Dunne was in similarly shrewd form when it came to giving away shots – just the one bogey, also on the testing par-3 18th mixed with five birdies on his way to a fine 66.
Four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy opened with a three under par round of 67 in his penultimate tournament before taking a break to recover from an ongoing rib injury. It was much more like it from Rory who still searches for that illusive 2017 ‘W’.
And Shane Lowry managed to continue his encouraging form from last week in Portugal, shooting a two under par 68 despite a frustrating double bogey six at the 4th.
It was Englishman Tyrrell Hatton who finished with back-to-back birdies to join South African George Coetzee at the top of the leaderboard after the opening round of the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
An impressive crowd of 18,368 lined the fairways at Close House as the European Tour returned to the north east of England for the first time in 15 years, and the fans were treated to a day of low scoring, with Coetzee setting the clubhouse target of seven under par after a round of 63 which included six birdies and an eagle on the sixth hole.
Hatton then matched that score, posting eight birdies of his own, including six on the back nine, as the 25 year old continued his return to form following a tied third place finish in his last European Tour appearance in the Omega European Masters.
“It was a really good day”, said Hatton. “I played lovely out there and gave myself plenty of chances. Managed to convert a few at the end and I’m looking forward to putting on the greens tomorrow morning when they are a little bit fresher. Hopefully I can keep the form going with my swing and post another good number.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots today, and it’s nice to feel comfortable in my swing again. Obviously I had a really bad summer, which is frustrating but you’re going to go through these phases. Golf is hard and I’m happy with where I’m at now.”
Five players are one shot back on six under par, including Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, who already has a European Tour victory to his name in 2017, while tournament host Lee Westwood is three shots off the pace in a share of 13th place after a bogey-free round of 66.