Rory McIlroy ignited hopes of winning a first tournament victory this season carding two birdies in his closing four holes in an encouraging three-under par 67 early on day one of the British Masters at Close House near Newcastle.
It left McIlroy trailing just three shots behind the clubhouse leading foursome of Spain’s Alvaro Quiros, England’s Chris Hansen and the Finnish duo of Mikko Illonen and Millo Korhoren who each signed for six-under par 64s.
However, a ‘preferred lie’ rule in place due to the rain-affected nature of the course meant no official tournament course record.
The trio of England’s Lee Slattery, Sweden’s Johan Carlsson and Frenchman Joel Slater share fourth place with 65s.
McIlroy’s effort is his lowest first day score since a similar 67 to kick-start early last month at the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational en route to a share of fifth in Ohio.
McIlroy commenced his round from the 10th but found himself one-over in dropping a shot at the 12th but then bouncing straight back with a birdie at the next.
Then at the uphill par four 17th, the eighth hole of his round, McIlroy had plenty of the spectators following him searching in deep rough after an errant drive, only just finding the ball within seconds of the allowed five minutes.
McIlroy walked off with a par, one of five pars in succession before heading to his back nine and then picking off birdies at his 11th, & 15th ahead of ending his round holing a five-footer at his last, the par three ninth.
“It was an okay round and I didn’t feel that I did anything particularly great but I didn’t do anything really bad except for one bad tee shot on 17 which nearly cost me and looked like a lost ball but we managed to find it and I made par,” he said.
“I have been seeing some positives in my game over the last week in my practice as my iron-play is starting to get better, as is my wedge-play, so those are the things I have really struggled with this year and I feel like they are going in the right direction”.
And McIlroy admitted he very felt very much at home on the hilly and very undulating Close House course that reminds him of his beloved Holywood Golf Club course that overlooks Belfast Harbour.
“This course is so much like my Holywood course and I don’t think I have played on steeper gradients,” he said.
Quiros superbly returned to form birding four of his opening six holes after only last week in Portugal ending a miserable run of seven missed cuts since winning in May the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily.
“The best club all day for me was my attitude as I was really very patient and something difficult for me I have to recognise,” he said.
“But am pleased to say, thanks to that, my score today was very good.”
And 16-year old England amateur sensation, Robin Tiger Williams was delighted with his one-over par 71 that included a chip-in birdie at the 16th.
Williams was given his middle name after Tiger Woods and swings the golf club very much like the 14-time Major winning American.
“I was born the year Tiger completed the Grand Slam (2001) and the first time my dad put a club in my hand was when I was 18 months old and I was bitten by the golfing bug,” he said.
Williams, Europe’s top-ranked amateur, was afforded an invitation into the event and drew plenty of praise including from Slattery his playing partner and compatriot.
“He was absolutely impressive and while he said he was nervous on the first tee Robin didn’t show it as he rammed in his two-footer for par at the first and off he went,” said Slattery.
“He is a really good ball-striker and I mean he’s a 16-year old who hits it 300-yards off the tee and actually hits it like Tiger Woods”.
And it not lost on observers that Williams is competing in his first pro event and at the same tournament and at the same age as a then 16-year old McIlroy who contested the 2005 British Masters.