Relaxed Rory McIlroy makes confident start at British Masters

A relaxed Rory McIlroy made the most of a little help from his friends as he tries to end a disappointing season in style at the British Masters.

McIlroy, who was a late entry into the £3 million event after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, carded a 3-under-par 67 to lie four shots behind leaders Tyrrell Hatton and George Coetzee at Close House.

"It's not a bad way to feel," McIlroy, 28, said. "You're not really looking ahead at anything, you're just concentrating on the round out there and not thinking about anything else.

"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.

"I think if you asked 75 percent of the guys out here, they would say it would be nice to have some sort of an offseason. I'm just giving myself an offseason this year and looking forward to improving my health, improving my game and becoming a better player in 2018."

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 admitted he feared a repeat of the final round of 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 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."

Sitting at 7 under, Hatton and Coetzee enjoyed a one-shot lead over a five-strong group, which included England's Chris Hanson, with compatriots Graeme Storm, Lee Slattery and Ashley Chesters among those at 5 under.

Slattery, who made worldwide news when he watched his wife give birth to their second child via FaceTime while he competed in Switzerland, carded five birdies in a flawless 65 compiled alongside 16-year-old amateur Robin Tiger Williams.

Williams, who was born the year that Tiger Woods completed the "Tiger Slam," when he held all four major titles at once, carded a highly respectable 71 and said, "It was so fun and enjoyable.

"I had trouble getting to sleep on Wednesday night, and I was definitely nervous on the first tee, but as I got into the round, I settled down and handled it very well."

Tournament host Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Matt Fitzpatrick, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter all shot 66, but Masters champion Sergio Garcia had to settle for a level-par 70. Defending champion Alex Noren finished 1 over.