Tiger Woods fires 66 for strong opening round at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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Tiger Woods fires 66 for strong opening round at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods fires 66 for strong opening round at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Tiger Woods has started strong in his quest for a ninth title at Firestone.

The 42-year-old fired a 4-under 66 in Thursday’s opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to put himself in a tie for eighth and just three back of leader Kyle Stanley.

That is the start Woods was looking for at Firestone’s South Course, a layout where he’s had so much success.

The day began with a bevy of birdie looks, going back to the very first hole. Woods knocked his approach to 7 feet at the par-4 10th (his opening hole), leaving him a nice birdie look.

He couldn’t convert but proceeded to spin a short iron to 4 feet and drain the putt for an early birdie at the par-4 11th. Over the next four holes, he would have three putts inside 23 feet (including an 11-footer) for birdie but got none of them to drop.

That minor frustration ended when he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the par-5 16th to move to 2 under.

Early on, Woods hardly missed a shot as he found his first six fairways (one of them coming via a fortunate kick off a tree) and eight greens. He finally seemed to crack a little when his drive at the par-4 18th went left.

His approach would have to be a low hook gouged out of a tough lie in the rough, but Woods was up for the challenge as he struck a brilliant shot that finished just short of the front edge of the green.

With some 50 feet from the hole for birdie, it looked like Woods would get down in two for a brilliant par. Except, he decided to drain that putt for an incredible birdie to close his front nine in 3-under 32.

From there, Woods kept rolling. His driving started to become more erratic, but he kept avoiding mistakes. It appeared a big one might be in the cards when he left himself 7 feet for par at the easy par-5 second. But he calmly holed that to remain 3 under.

Three holes later, Woods coaxed in an 18-foot left-to-right slider for birdie to move to 4 under. At the par-3 seventh, he trickled in a 20-footer for birdie.

Woods was now 5 under for the round and two back in a tie for second.

He would make a sloppy bogey at the ninth, as he hit his tee shot in a fairway bunker, laid up in rough, wedged to 8 feet and missed the par putt. But it was his sole blemish on a strong day.

Considering Woods has won this event at this course eight times and is coming off nearly winning the British Open, this first round is not surprising.

But remember: The 42-year-old barely got into this event in the first place. He reached No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking by fractions after the British Open to grab his spot into the field.

Woods also has not had a strong record on Thursdays of late, as ESPN’s Bob Harig pointed out:

If Woods is going to break his five-year win drought – which many speculated this week would be a prime one, especially considering his last (and 79th) PGA Tour win came here in 2013 – this is just the start he needed.

Seemingly everything worked for Woods on Thursday, except his driver. The big stick came out eight times, with Woods putting just two good swings on it. The rest were erratic. In the middle of the round, too, he struggled a bit driving with his driving iron as well.

His approach play was brilliant, though, as Woods seemed to have almost every one on target and produced some stunning ones out of trouble.

His work around the greens didn’t come into play much, as Woods missed just five greens and most of those were on the fringe (from where he could putt).

The flatstick worked well, as Woods drained a pair of long ones and made a few others in the short to mid-range.

There are still 54 holes to go and that driver is worrisome, but this is the Thursday that Woods was looking for.

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