Golf: McIlroy, Fleetwood start strongly in European Masters

McIlroy during the first round of the European Masters golf tournament in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.
McIlroy during the first round of the European Masters golf tournament in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland (AFP) - Rory McIlroy backed up his FedEx Cup triumph with a strong first-round 67 at the European Masters in Crans-Montana on Thursday (Aug 29) to sit just four shots adrift of early leaders Matthias Schwab and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.

The four-time major winner - who beat world number one Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele to claim the PGA Tour's Tour Championship and the US$15 million (S$20 million) points list bonus at East Lake last weekend - fired a three-under round.

Northern Ireland's McIlroy mixed six birdies with three bogeys on the opening day in Switzerland as he returned to Europe for the first time since missing the cut in his home British Open at Royal Portrush last month.

"I played well on the back nine, which was our front nine, played that in three under, which was good," he said.

"Hopefully I can play good golf over the next three days and give myself a chance."

England's Tommy Fleetwood, who also played the Tour Championship in the US, carded a five-under back nine of 30 en route to an impressive 65.

He said he managed to have his first day at home in the UK for six weeks since the British Open after flying from Atlanta.

"We teed off at 12.40pm and managed to get a 6pm flight from Atlanta to Manchester, which was nice," said Fleetwood.

"Energy is fine. Not really done any training, just rested up and managed my time. I feel alright, everything is fine when you ar e playing well."

Former winner Sergio Garcia is also poised for a possible weekend charge following a 66.

But Austria's Schwab and Frenchman Lorenzo-Vera lead the way at seven-under par after coping best with the high altitude.

"It reminds me of home a lot," Schwab told europeantour.com "I grew up in the mountains and still live there. I like being here, I like the mountains."

Lorenzo-Vera, the world number 100, made a double-bogey on the fourth hole but hit back in stunning style as an eagle and four birdies saw him home in just 29.

"I'm very happy because I just had five weeks off," he said. "It was a stressful five weeks with a wedding and moving plus two kids. I managed to bring the head together pretty well today."