Rory McIlroy may have been the centre of attention on day one of the British Masters but the four-time Major winner couldn’t avoid talking about another star attraction.

The Northern Irishman opened his challenge at Close House near Newcastle with a three-under 67 to sit four behind early leaders Tyrell Hatton and George Coetzee.

But after briefly summarising his own golfing exploits in what is his penultimate event of the season, the 28-year-old swiftly moved on to hail the impact of the ailing Tiger Woods.

On Wednesday, Woods, who is a vice-captain at this week’s Presidents Cup in the US, was asked whether it was possible he may never compete again and said: "Yeah, definitely,” before adding that “I don’t know what my future holds.”

Given the ravages inflicted on his body by years of pushing himself to the limit and beyond, and the subsequent surgeries on his back that have tried to repair the seemingly irreparable, there finally seems to be a realistic acceptance of his fate where once there was always defiance.

If it is the end, then McIlroy will afford him a rousing send-off. Like many of McIlroy’s generation, Woods was the inspiring figure who stirred the senses and fired the ambitions.

McIlroy said: “Look, if he doesn't play again, he's been the greatest player that I've ever seen. He probably played the greatest golf that anyone in my lifetime has seen. I didn't really see Jack (Nicklaus) play. Jack has a better record but I don't know if he played better golf.

"But if this is it, he doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. He can walk away from this game with his head held extremely high and he's done wonders for this game.

"I don't think there's a single figure in golf who did more for the game in terms of bringing different groups of people into the game, different ethnicities, different age groups, made golf cool in the 90s, when it really needed an injection of something.

"So he's a legend of the game and if this is it, then everyone should just applaud what a great career he's had."

Elsewhere on the first day at Close House, Cathkin Braes man Scott Jamieson made a solid start to his week with a two-under 68.

Glasgow's Marc Warren, fresh from a second place finish in last weekend’s Portugal Masters, had been in the red figures playing the last but slipped to a bogey on the 18th in a level-par 70.