By Tony Jimenez
WATFORD, England (Reuters) - Alex Noren, showing the sort of supreme confidence befitting one of the hottest players in Europe, eagled the par-five 18th to provide a springboard for another potential title push at the British Masters on Thursday.
The Swede coaxed in a curling 45-foot putt on the final green to put the seal on a four-under 67 that left him one behind first-round leaders Richard Sterne of South Africa, Scot Marc Warren, Finn Mikko Ilonen and England's Tommy Fleetwood.
In the last three months Noren has won the Scottish Open and the European Masters while also finishing second at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, eighth at the French Open and 11th at last week's Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
Asked what it would mean to achieve a title treble in a single campaign, the 34-year-old told Reuters in an interview: "It would be unbelievable.
"I was close at the Match Play. I didn't really think about that possibility at the start of the season and it would be amazing to do it."
Noren, who has a total of six European Tour victories to his credit, had to fight a tendency to push the ball off the tee in his opening round at The Grove.
"I didn't hit my driver very good," he said as he tried to shelter from the wintry winds on the outskirts of London.
"When you come from the links courses we played in Scotland last week, where you need low shots, to here where you need a little more flight on it, sometimes it's difficult to get it right.
"Sometimes it's like putting glue on your skis, you never know if it's right. That's what it's like with my driver."
Noren said that perhaps it was a case of trying too hard to hit the middle of the fairway off the tee.
"It's always been a bit of a weakness of mine," he explained. "When I hit my driver good I normally play pretty good.
"My putting has always been alright but I've got high expectations on the driver and maybe I should tone it down a bit."
Noren said fellow countryman Henrik Stenson's spectacular victory in the British Open at Royal Troon in July, when he became the first Scandinavian to land a major, provided a lift to every Swedish player on the tour.
"It was great for all of us," he added. "It's good to see guys around you doing so well.
"It gives you more confidence and more motivation when someone around you that you play with a lot and practice with a lot does well."
Noren missed out on a place at the Ryder Cup in Minnesota earlier this month. But he watched Europe's 17-11 defeat by the United States on television and it gave him an incentive to try to make the team in the future.
"I'd definitely like to play in it one day, feeling that pressure with all those fans around," he said. "As a player that's what you always want to work towards."
(Editing by Toby Davis)