THE top of the leaderboard at the 2020 British Masters was evenly matched after the first day of play at Close House Golf Club.

Lee Westwood, Eddie Pepperell and defending champion Marcus Kinhult were the only members of the world’s top 100 in the field at Close House, with Westwood’s victory in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and vast experience of his home course seeing the 47-year-old installed as tournament favourite.

“I’ve played well this year and my second-last tournament I finished fourth in the Honda - albeit five months ago - but you never can tell,” Westwood said.

“That’s why it’s called gambling. 9/1 is a short price and not sure I’d be having a bet on it, but there’s still a bit of each-way value I suppose.”

Playing this week means Westwood, Pepperell and Kinhult will miss out on the US PGA Championship due to the 14-day quarantine required on arrival in the United States, but Westwood felt it was an easy decision to make.

“Nobody wants to miss majors and WGCs, but I’d made a commitment to host this week and, through all this, people have to use their own common sense,” he added.

Eddie Pepperell completed a four-under-par 67 to card a promising first round.

“I did not start off so well but I could have got it to six or seven under so I definitely left a few out there,” Pepperell said.

In contrast, Westwood was satisfied with an opening 70, adding: “It was a bit of a struggle. I didn’t have control of my swing and mis-clubbed a few times, which is probably not acceptable considering I’m a member here, but I putted well and managed to grind it out for one under.”

Former US Open champion Michael Campbell admitted he was “completely flabbergasted” after carding a three-under-par 68 in the first round of the Betfred British Masters.

Campbell has not made a cut on the European Tour since 2013 as he struggled with a foot injury and loss of form, but the 51-year-old New Zealander rolled back the years with six birdies and three bogeys at Close House.

“I’m completely flabbergasted,” the 2005 US Open winner said. “I haven’t played in eight months and only started practising two weeks ago.

“My expectations are practically none, I just wanted to have fun with my son Thomas who is on my bag this week and I’m really surprised to shoot three under.”

“I actually played really good and it could have been a lot better, but I’m happy with three under. Lucky enough the course is fast and firm, so you don’t have to hit it long here, which is an advantage for me.”

Tournament host Lee Westwood admitted the lack of fans will help him concentrate on his game more, and the New Zealander said the lack of a crowd had a big impact.

Campbell said: “It’s weird with no crowds, no clapping, but I think it worked to my advantage. You get used to it quickly but going out and playing I was more relaxed.”

Westwood said he was confident the “military-style” approach taken by the European Tour will ensure a safe return to action at this week’s Betfred British Masters during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Scotland’s David Law was at the top of the leaderboard on Wednesday with a seven-under-par score over 16 holes. Oliver Fisher said he was delighted with his six-under-par score of 65, which placed him second.