Sport Golf

Thursday 14 November 2019

Rory McIlroy needs help of spectator to keep British Masters hopes alive

Rory McIlroy retrieves his ball in the rough on the 17th amongst the crowd
Rory McIlroy retrieves his ball in the rough on the 17th amongst the crowd

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy needed the help of a spectator to keep his first round of the British Masters on track as he tries to end a disappointing season in style at Close House.

McIlroy, who was a late entry into the £3million event after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, carded a three-under-par 67 to lie three shots off the clubhouse lead shared by Alvaro Quiros, Chris Hanson and Mikko Ilonen.

But it could have been a different story for the four-time major winner if a spectator had not found his ball inside the five-minute time limit after a wild drive on the 17th, his eighth hole of the day.

McIlroy produced a superb recovery from thick rough to the elevated green and went on to save par, the 28-year-old having earlier dropped a shot on the 12th before making a birdie on the par-five 13th.

And three birdies on the front nine completed a satisfactory start to his penultimate tournament of an injury-plagued season, which the former world number one will bring to an early end after next week's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

"It's not a bad way to feel," a relaxed McIlroy said. "You're not really looking ahead at anything, you're just concentrating on the round out there and not thinking about anything else - it's quite nice position to be in.

"I feel like I'm not under any pressure to perform at all, I'm not putting myself under any pressure. That's probably the reason I've went out there and shot a decent score."

Speaking about the 17th, McIlroy admitted he feared a repeat of the final round in this year's Open at Royal Birkdale, when a wild drive on the 15th resulted in a lost ball.

"I thought it was going to be the Open all over again," he added. "I've hit a few destructive tee shots like that over the past few weeks just by going for it. I know that right miss is in there when I try to hit it hard.

"I was trying to get it to the front of the green and I was in two minds whether to hit it at that point or not because the guys in front were still on the green. I thought I'll just say sorry if it gets close to them."

Quiros, who has made just one halfway cut since winning the Rocco Forte Open earlier this season, carded seven birdies and a solitary bogey on the last in a 64 matched by Hanson and Ilonen, with Lee Slattery and Johan Carlsson a shot behind.

Playing alongside McIlroy, 2015 winner Matt Fitzpatrick carded a 66 to finish four under.

Defending champion Alex Noren was among the later starters alongside tournament host Lee Westwood and Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

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