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Former champion Justin Rose justified his position as pre-tournament favourite with a superb opening round in the Betfred British Masters.
The world number 31, the top-ranked player in the field, carded eight birdies and a solitary bogey to record a seven-under-par 65 at The Belfry.
That gave Rose a one-shot lead over former Ryder Cup team-mate Jamie Donaldson, who birdied five of the last six holes in his 66, with Germany’s Yannik Paul and English amateur John Gough two shots further back.
“I felt very comfortable with my game from the first shot,” said Rose, who won the British Masters in 2002 and hosted the event in 2018.
“I hit a beautiful little wedge into the 10th hole, made a nice birdie there and I think that’s the cleanest round of golf I’ve played in a long, long time.
“I really drove the ball well, the irons were being struck pretty cleanly and I actually hadn’t made many putts through the front nine to be four under so it was great to manage to make a few coming in.
“It all amounted to a very good day’s work.”
Asked about being a short-priced favourite to win the £2.7million event, Rose added: “I haven’t really paid any attention to that, even though I played with the Betfred lads [in the pro-am] and they were telling me about the pricing of the field.
“It’s obviously somewhat of a compliment but it doesn’t mean anything, does it? You have to go and play well.
“Quality players, if they play well, they are going to be hard to beat, but the hard part is playing well. Obviously I’ve done the first step, got off to a good start, but got a long way to go this week.
“Coming off a missed cut at the US Open and a week off without too much practice, the beginning part of this week was important for me to get tuned back in to my feels and it’s nice to get off to a good, positive start.”
Donaldson, who sealed the winning point at Gleneagles in 2014, was just one under par after 12 holes of his round before picking up shots on the 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th.
“Nothing was going in, it was all a bit slow at the start and suddenly it all kicked in on the back nine,” the 47-year-old Welshman said. “Five in six holes to finish, so yeah, fantastic.
“I was just trying to be patient. There were a lot of downwind holes towards the end there, so it made it easier to have birdie chances and hit a few good shots.”