Tommy Fleetwood led the home charge at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports with a superb birdie at the last to card a five under 66, with the Englishman in a four-way share of the first round lead at The Grove.
Scot Marc Warren was also among those tied at the top on five under, alongside Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and South African Richard Sterne, as hopes of a second successive British winner of the event were given a significant boost on day one in Hertfordshire.
Lee Westwood, meanwhile, was one of six Englishmen just a shot off the pace on four under par, joined by compatriots Richard Bland, David Horsey, Andrew Johnston, James Morrison and Lee Slattery, as well as Swede Alex Noren – twice a winner on the European Tour already this year.
Tyrrell Hatton, last week’s winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, continued his strong form as he carded a three under par 68. He was joined in a share of 12th place by 2016 Ryder Cup star Chris Wood, Northern Irish Major winner Graeme McDowell and Ireland’s Shane Lowry among others.
Tommy Fleetwood: “I very rarely hit it out of position and putted lovely. It was just one of those days where every putt I hit felt lovely and, overall, five-under is a great score. The wind was up this afternoon and then it got cold later on in the day. When we first went out, it was clear that it was going to be quite a tough day, so you have to make the most of your chances. It’s only one round down but hopefully we’ll keep going.
“I actually played the British Masters when I was 17 as an amateur. That was the last time it was on at The Belfry and last year, having it back on again, it was a superb event. We’re lucky to play in it. It’s always a pleasure to play in front of home crowds as well.”
Marc Warren: “I was delighted with a 66. The wind was getting up and changing as we were going around, so it was really pleasing. I wasn’t really under too much stress at any time during the round, so it was a really enjoyable round of golf.
“The eagle on the second was probably the best drive I hit all day as well. That was a really nice number, about 235, a little bit into the wind off the left, and I just made a nice free swing with the five wood. It was nice to walk up and see it about six, eight inches, something I could tap-in for an eagle.”
Mikko Ilonen: “It was a perfect start, I played some of my best golf on the front nine. I sort of lost my rhythm a little bit there around halfway, but I came back strong and made two birdies at 16 and 18 to continue the trend from the weekend at the Dunhill.
“I’ve still got work to do to get to Dubai. I’m pretty safe for Turkey, but I’m not quite sure about Nedbank. As of now, I will be in for Nedbank and obviously the goal is to finish strong and be as high as possible in the Order of Merit.”
Richard Sterne: “I played probably the best tee-to-green I have done all year really. I had so many chances and it was just good to feel that control over the ball. It was pretty tough out there, there were a lot of cross winds. I had a lot of opportunities from 15 feet, but I didn’t really putt great. I’m happy with 66 – if you had said to me before I would have taken it.
“I’ve only played this course once before in a pro-am, but it’s a lovely golf course. You have to drive it really well and I did that pretty good today.”
Lee Westwood: “The driving’s not been great recently, but I drove it really well today. I didn’t miss a fairway, hit a lot of good iron shots as well and gave myself a lot of chances for birdies.
“This golf course can give you a few chances early on but there’s a couple of tough holes as well. The second, the third and the fourth, with the par three over water. I controlled the ball well but I had a chance because I hit fairways. My iron shots were pretty adjacent most of the day.”
66 R Sterne (RSA) , M Ilonen (Fin) , M Warren (Sco) , T Fleetwood (Eng) ,
67 R Bland (Eng) , L Slattery (Eng) , A Noren (Swe) , J Morrison (Eng) , D Horsey (Eng) , L Westwood (Eng) , A Johnston (Eng) ,
68 S Lowry (Irl) , C Wood (Eng) , S Jamieson (Sco) , G McDowell (Nir) , T Hatton (Eng) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , A Wall (Eng) , G Bourdy (Fra) ,
69 M Southgate (Eng) , J Singh (Ind) , R Rock (Eng) , J Luiten (Ned) , P Edberg (Swe) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , M Ford (Eng) , M Siem (Ger) ,
70 T Immelman (RSA) , M Baldwin (Eng) , C Lee (Sco) , P McGinley (Irl) , O Fisher (Eng) , C Paisley (Eng) , T Jaidee (Tha) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , G Wright (Wal) , A Levy (Fra) , R Karlsson (Swe) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , S Gallacher (Sco) , J Quesne (Fra) , D Brooks (Eng) , P Hanson (Swe) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , M Kieffer (Ger) , P Waring (Eng) , H Porteous (RSA) , M Carlsson (Swe) ,
71 T Aiken (RSA) , G Stal (Fra) , B Dredge (Wal) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , F Zanotti (Par) , J Campillo (Esp) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , J Hugo (RSA) , J Parry (Eng) , A Quiros (Esp) , P Peterson (USA) , J Walters (RSA) , E De La Riva (Esp) , M Korhonen (Fin) , B Rumford (Aus) , R Ramsay (Sco) ,
72 L Bjerregaard (Den) , F Aguilar (Chi) , T Fisher Jnr (RSA) , R Dinwiddie (Eng) , S Webster (Eng) , G Havret (Fra) , R Kakko (Fin) , M Cort (Eng) , A Sullivan (Eng) , D Lipsky (USA) , S Khan (Eng) , A Wu (Chn) , R Fisher (Eng) , E Pepperell (Eng) , T Lewis (Eng) , F Fritsch (Ger) ,
73 B Evans (Eng) , J Carlsson (Swe) , G Coetzee (RSA) , D Fichardt (RSA) , M Madsen (Den) , M Manassero (Ita) , R Karlberg (Swe) , R Green (Aus) , P Lawrie (Sco) , A Cañizares (Esp) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , D Howell (Eng) , J Olazábal (Esp) , R Paratore (Ita) , T Olesen (Den) , J Van Zyl (RSA) ,
74 A Dodt (Aus) , M Jonzon (Swe) , Y Yang (Kor) , N Holman (Aus) , G Storm (Eng) , S Gregory (am) (Eng) ,
75 O Wilson (Eng) , M Hoey (Nir) , P Meesawat (Tha) , J Lagergren (Swe) ,
76 B Hebert (Fra) ,
77 N Bertasio (Ita) , K Broberg (Swe) , J Edfors (Swe) , L Donald (Eng) ,
78 S Lee (Kor) , R Wattel (Fra) ,
79 J Jeong (Kor) , E España (Fra) ,
82 S Dyson (Eng) ,
** J Donaldson (Wal) , S Benson (Eng)