Rory McIlroy believes his game is showing signs of progress after posting a three-under 67 in the opening round of the British Masters.
The world No 6 equalled his lowest opening round of the year in front of huge crowds at Close House, mixing four birdies with a sole blemish to get within three strokes of the early leaders.
McIlroy, who only committed to playing last week after failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship, reached the turn in level-par before surging up the leaderboard with three birdies on his second nine.
“I’ve been seeing some positives over my game in the last week as I’ve practiced,” McIlroy said. “My iron play is starting to get better. Wedge play is starting to get better.
“Those are things that I’ve really struggled with this year and feel like they are going in the right direction.
“We got great conditions. I felt like I played solid enough. I didn’t do anything great, but I didn’t do anything really bad either.”
Beginning on the back nine alongside Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick, McIlroy missed from close range to save par at the 12th but bounced back with a birdie at the par-five next.
The four-time major champion needed a spectator to find his ball inside the five-minute limit after a wild drive on the 17th, where he hacked out of thick rough on to the green and two-putted for par.
McIlroy rolled in from eight feet at the first and posted a two-putt birdie at the sixth, before closing his round with an eight-foot birdie at the ninth.
“I actually made a couple up-and-downs, which kept the round going a little bit,” McIlroy added. It kept some sort of momentum. Birdieing two of the last four was nice, just to shoot something in the 60s.
“I started off using the green book at the start, and then I hit a couple of putts that didn’t really do what I expected them to do.
“So I start of put the green book away after a few holes and just sort of trusted my eyes and seemed to work for the better.”