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Paul Dunne and Graeme McDowell lead Irish charge at British Masters

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry also started well but McDowell will rue nightmare 4-putt

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell celebrates a putt during day one of the British Masters at Close House Golf Club, Newcastle. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA

Graeme McDowell was left to rue a nightmare four-putt on his final hole during the first round of the British Masters, finishing with a double bogey five after getting within one shot of the lead.

The disappointing finish for the former US Open champion means he sits alongside Paul Dunne as the leading Irish players at the end of round one with both men carding four under par rounds of 66 to usurp tournament favourite Rory McIlroy by one shot.

Dunne – who is enjoying his best season of his professional career so far – carded five birdies and just a solitary bogey on his final hole at Close House to sit three behind the first round lead.

At the top of the leaderboard it was South African George Coetzee and local man Tyrrell Hatton who set the pace with seven under par rounds of 63 on the par 70 layout to lead by one shot from a quartet of players on six under.

After getting to that mark through 16 holes thanks to six birdies and no bogeys, McDowell had the chance to join the lead on the 17th but missed his birdie putt.

And then came a final hole we will want to forget about in a hurry. After finding the right fringe with his tee shot at the 221-yard par three he putted down to five feet but proceeded to take three from there to drop two shots.

Earlier on, Shane Lowry finished his opening round two shots behind Dunne and McDowell, largely due to a double bogey at the fourth.

Aside from that the Offalyman carded four birdies and 13 pars in his round of 68.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy needed the help of a spectator to keep his first round of on track as he tries to end a disappointing season in style just outside of Newcastle.

McIlroy, who was a late entry into the £3million event after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, carded a three under par 67 in his first appearance at this event since 2008.

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.”

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

Tournament host Lee Westwood finished among the group on four under where he was joined by Martin Kaymer with Masters champion Sergio Garcia back at level par.