NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England — George Coetzee and Tyrrell Hatton shot 7-under 63s to lead the British Masters on Thursday, while Rory McIlroy needed the help of a spectator to stay on track in his first round.
Coetzee followed up top-10 finishes at his last two events by rolling in six birdies and making an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole to set a clubhouse target at Close House Golf Club in northern England.
Hatton joined Coetzee atop the leaderboard by making birdies on five of the last seven holes, including one from 15 feet at the par-3 18th.
Finnish golfers Mikko Ilonen and Mikko Korhonen were in a five-way share of third place on 6 under, along with Alvaro Quiros, Chris Hanson and Rikard Karlberg.
McIlroy, who was a late entry after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship on the U.S. PGA Tour, shot 67 but only after a spectator found his ball inside the five-minute time limit following a wild drive on No. 17, his eighth hole.
The No. 6-ranked McIlroy produced a superb recovery from thick rough to the elevated green and went on to save par, before making three birdies on the front nine.
"I feel like I’m not under any pressure to perform at all, I’m not putting myself under any pressure," said McIlroy, whose last tournament will be next week at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. "That’s probably the reason I went out there and shot a decent score."
Masters champion Sergio Garcia bogeyed the 18th for a level-par round of 70.