AKRON, Ohio –– Given that he was playing his 53rd competitive round at Firestone Country Club in the Bridgestone Invitational, Jim Furyk is a credible source to evaluate the way things were presented in Thursday’s first round.
“The golf course was out there for the taking,” said Furyk, and it’s hard to argue with his assessment.
Furyk, showing no signs of being spooked by his double-bogey at the 72nd hole a year ago that handed the win to Keegan Bradley, birdied three straight holes starting his second nine, shot 3-under 67, and has now broken par in 11 of his last 14 rounds in this World Golf Championship.
His was just one of many storylines as the final warm-up to the season’s final major championship got under way.
Here’s 5 Things of note from Thursday’s first round:
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1. BLACK AND BLUE FOR THEM, NOT RED: Sometimes you can ride momentum. Then there are days like Thursday when two heralded names, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker, showed that there’s a fine line between momentum and a letdown.
Neither player looked like the player they were when the golf world last saw them – the lefthander two weeks ago in capturing the Open Championship with an epic close and Snedeker in Canada last Sunday when he earned his sixth PGA Tour win.
Each shot 2-over 72, lackluster efforts on a day when 18 of 73 broke par and the field average was 70.932.
“It does,” Mickelson said, when asked if it’s natural to stumble the first round after having won a big tournament. “I am aware of it and I’ll try to make sure I’m a little bit more rested and sharp heading into the weekend.”
Snedeker was uncharacteristically sloppy with the one club in his bag that is most dependable – the putter. With birdies at the 10th and 13th getting him back to level par, he had a 23-footer for birdie at the 15th and a 15-footer for birdie at the 17th.
Both times he three-putted for bogey.
Mickelson could commiserate. The lefthander missed a 4-footer for par at the par-4 sixth, a 6-footer for par at the par-3 seventh, and on the day required 31 strokes with the flat stick.
But when you have the Claret Jug in your traveling case, you can be buoyant.
“I’m not concerned,” Mickelson said. “My swing and game still feel very sharp.”
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2. SOUND FAMILIAR? By now, Rory McIlroy probably doesn’t know what to say. So, why not say the same thing?
“Some good, some bad,” he shrugged after an afternoon of many terrific swings were wasted. A sloppy bogey at the 18th – wide drive left, poor wedge just off the green – kept him from shooting his first under-par round on the PGA Tour since May 31 (Round 2 of the Memorial).
“I just threw a few shots away around the greens.”
McIlroy was 1 under at several points during his round, last at the 207-yard 15th when he stuffed his tee shot to 6 feet and made his third birdie in four holes. He then followed with solid pars at Nos. 16 and 17, but finishing the job has been a struggle. McIlroy escaped from his bad drive at No. 18 and had it hole high, just off the green in manageable rough.
But he hit a poor shot, made bogey and settled for 70 to sit in a share of 19th, six back.
Doesn’t sound like much, but given that McIlroy came into the tournament having been 32 over for his previous 10 rounds, it’s a step forward.
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3. WORTH WAITING FOR: Webb Simpson thought he’d be in the Bridgestone Invitational in 2011, but he fell to No. 51 in the Official World Golf Ranking and just missed.
So he looked forward to his debut in 2012, only his wife, Dowd, gave birth to the couple’s second child in late July. He took an extended break and missed again.
This time around? No worries, no conflicts, no snafus . . . only a bucket of birdies. Eight of them, in fact, which was enough firepower to offset a closing bogey and put Simpson in the lead at 6-under 64.
Beginner’s luck? Not at all. Instead, credit veteran caddie Paul Tesori – “He’s been here so many times,” Simpson said – and a few solid days of practice.
“Today was one of those days where I just saw the lines well and my speed (on the greens) was really good,” said Simpson.
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4. THE OTHER OPEN CHAMP: As he walked up the 17th fairway, Phil Mickelson peered to his right, spotted a few girls in soccer outfits and asked them when was game time?
The fans enjoyed the back-and-forth, but they weren’t the only ones who appreciated the lefthander. So, too, did his playing competitor, Justin Rose.
“That was special today. It was nice just to sort of converse with Phil,” said Rose, whose major triumph at the U.S. Open at Merion in June might take a back seat to Mickelson’s Open Championship two weeks ago, at least with fans, but it sure resonates with him.
Still, cheers to Rose for letting the spotlight shine on Mickelson.
“I feel pleased for Phil,” Rose said. “Obviously, he deserves a U.S. Open after all his second places (six, a record), but I think his winning the Open Championship was a big thrill for him.”
Unlike Mickelson, who couldn’t deliver a sub-par round, Rose got it into the house at 1-under 69, despite bogeys at Nos. 14 and 18.
The bumpy finish did not make him sour, however.
“I hit a lot of quality golf shots, which I haven’t been doing the last few weeks,” Rose said. “When I did make a bogey, I felt like I was unfortunate to make a bogey.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Tiger Woods going low at Firestone? Ho-hum. His 66 was his 33rd sub-par effort in 53 competitive rounds at the Bridgestone. But more stunning is how low he goes here. Fourteen times he’s been at 66 or better, his best being 61. There’s also been a 62, two 64s, four 65s and six 66s. . . . Not that everyone had their way with Firestone. Adam Scott double-bogeyed his second hole, the 11th, added four more bogeys, and shot 73. . . . Biggest struggle belonged to Daniel Popovic, the 2012 Australian PGA Championship winner. He shot 79. . . . The only two eagles came at the par-5 second, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson doing the honors. . . . How demanding was the 653-yard, par-5 16th? Only 10 of 73 players recorded a birdie there and less than 60 percent of the field (58.9, to be exact) hit the green in regulation. . . . Defending champ Keegan Bradley joined Stenson to record the only bogey-free rounds. Stenson shot 65, Bradley 66. . . . Toughest hole to birdie? The par-4 fourth, a 471-yarder where bogeys outnumbered birdies, 19-3. But the par-4 sixth played toughest, at a field average of 4.26.