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Hatton, Coetzee hit the heights at Close House, McIlroy trails by 4

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Englishman Tyrrell Hatton 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.

Hatton shared, “It was a really good day. 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.

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.

He said, “I felt like I played solid enough. I didn't do anything great but I didn't do anything really bad either. Probably a fair reflection of how the day went. I got lucky on the fourth hole. I hit it left of the green and thought it was in the hazard, but it stayed up and was able to get that up-and-down for par.

“I've been seeing some positives over my game in the last week as I've practiced. My iron play is starting to get better, wedge play is starting to get better, those are the things that I've really struggled with this year and I feel like they are going in the right direction.

“It's fantastic. This golf tournament, it's got a great support from its inception a couple years ago, and this is the first time I've played. I think this part of the world, they haven't seen a top-class golf tournament like this for a long time and they have come out in their numbers and it's great to see.

“I'll play Dunhill next week and I won't tee it up again until 2018. Basically to give myself a bit of time to recover from this injury that's been bothering me all year. It's been a big year in my life away from the golf course this year, and I'm not saying that that had an effect on what happened on it, I feel like the injury held me back from practicing. But if I can't take time off at this part of the year, when can I take any time off.”

First round scores

63 G Coetzee (RSA) , T Hatton (Eng) ,

64 M Korhonen (Fin) , A Quiros (Esp) , C Hanson (Eng) , M Ilonen (Fin) , R Karlberg (Swe) ,

65 J Carlsson (Swe) , L Slattery (Eng) , A Chesters (Eng) , J Stalter (Fra) , G Storm (Eng) ,

66 G McDowell (Nir) , I Poulter (Eng) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , A Dodt (Aus) , R Karlsson (Swe) , P Dunne (Irl) , M Kaymer (Ger) , D Brooks (Eng) , L Westwood (Eng) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) , F Fritsch (Ger) ,

67 G Havret (Fra) , R Ramsay (Sco) , L Haotong (Chn) , R Fisher (Eng) , D Fichardt (RSA) , C Wood (Eng) , W Ormsby (Aus) , G Stal (Fra) , N Fasth (Swe) , R Gouveia (Por) , J Scrivener (Aus) , J Walters (RSA) , F Aguilar (Chi) , L Bjerregaard (Den) , R McIlroy (Nir) ,

68 J Lagergren (Swe) , J Wang (Kor) , M Foster (Eng) , S Jamieson (Sco) , M Carlsson (Swe) , A Sullivan (Eng) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , S Lowry (Irl) , P Waring (Eng) , D Lingmerth (Swe) , P Angles (Esp) , R Rock (Eng) , G Bourdy (Fra) ,

69 D Horsey (Eng) , S Heisele (Ger) , B Rumford (Aus) , S Gallacher (Sco) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , A Hansen (Den) , N Bertasio (Ita) , R Sterne (RSA) , E Pepperell (Eng) , L Canter (Eng) , M Wallace (Eng) , D Willett (Eng) , B Stone (RSA) , A Levy (Fra) , T Jaidee (Tha) , D Frittelli (RSA) , A Wall (Eng) , B Dredge (Wal) ,

70 O Fisher (Eng) , J Campillo (Esp) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , N Elvira (Esp) , A Otaegui (Esp) , S Manley (Wal) , J Edfors (Swe) , J Morrison (Eng) , H Porteous (RSA) , S Lee (Kor) , S Gros (Fra) , E De La Riva (Esp) , A Rai (Eng) , M Siem (Ger) , M Warren (Sco) , T Lewis (Eng) , B Hebert (Fra) , A Cañizares (Esp) , E Molinari (Ita) , J Donaldson (Wal) , J Olazábal (Esp) , S Garcia (Esp) ,

71 D Drysdale (Sco) , J Lima (Por) , R Langasque (Fra) , D Stewart (Sco) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , S Soderberg (Swe) , S Walker (Eng) , A Noren (Swe) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , S Dyson (Eng) , M Jiménez (Esp) , J Smith (Eng) , N Kimsey (Eng) , P Hanson (Swe) , J Quesne (Fra) , R Williams (am) (Eng) ,

72 P Peterson (USA) , T Aiken (RSA) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , S Chawrasia (Ind) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , L Jensen (Den) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , S Hend (Aus) , R Bland (Eng) , D Perrier (Fra) , M Cort (Eng) , R Coles (Eng) , D Im (USA) , J Lupton (Eng) ,

73 A Knappe (Ger) , S Brazel (Aus) , W Ashun (Chn) , M Manassero (Ita) , C Paisley (Eng) , N Holman (Aus) , D Burmester (RSA) ,

74 R Knox (Sco) , M Fraser (Aus) , R Paratore (Ita) ,

76 M Armitage (Eng)