By Tony Jimenez
WATFORD, England (Reuters) - Former world number one Lee Westwood brushed off wintry conditions and a woeful run of form to boost his hopes of securing a 24th European Tour victory at the British Masters on Thursday.
The 43-year-old reeled off five birdies in a dynamic eight-hole run on the back nine to move within one stroke of first-round leaders Richard Sterne of South Africa, fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Finn Mikko Ilonen and Marc Warren of Scotland.
"I played really well today," Westwood told reporters after posting a four-under-par 67 at The Grove course on the outskirts of London.
"Billy (Foster) was saying it's the best he's seen me play in quite some time," he said, referring to his long-term caddie.
"The ball is not flying that far because it's heavy and wet and chilly. I hit a lot of fairways and my iron shots were pretty adjacent most of the day."
Westwood has missed his last two cuts and also performed poorly at the Ryder Cup earlier this month, failing to pick up a point from his three matches as Europe were beaten 17-11 by the United States in Minnesota.
"I think the attitude was good today," said the veteran campaigner who had two spells at the top of the world rankings in 2010 and 2011.
"The driving's not been great but I drove it really well today, didn't miss a fairway, and gave myself a lot of chances for birdie."
Also on 67 were England's Andrew 'Beef' Johnston, David Horsey, Richard Bland, Lee Slattery and James Morrison and in-form Swede Alex Noren.
Noren is seeking a title treble on the tour after winning the Scottish Open in July and the European Masters in Switzerland in September.
Sterne and Fleetwood both produced bogey-free rounds of golf while the highlight for Ilonen and Warren were eagle threes at the 537-yard second.
While Westwood was flying high towards the top of the leaderboard, fellow former world number one Luke Donald experienced a bad day at the office.
Tournament host Donald was languishing in 110th place after ballooning to a 77, six over.
The 38-year-old Englishman started at the 10th hole and made a series of mistakes on his back nine as he limped home in 39 shots.
(Editing by Toby Davis)