Scott sizzles, but Woods solid

European Tour

Adam Scott has birdied four of his last six holes to grab the lead after Thursday’s first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Australian Adam Scott birdied four of his last six holes to grab the lead after Thursday’s first round of the prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

His blistering 8-under 62 at manicured Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, put Scott one shot clear of fellow Australian Jason Day who had charged into the clubhouse lead much earlier in the day with a 63.

It also took him six shots clear of a back-from-injury Tiger Woods, who, showing no sign of the left knee injury that has dogged him, opened with a solid but unspectacular 68 that mixed three birdies with a lone bogey at the par-four 14th.

Scott’s performance would almost certainly have given New Zealand caddy Steve Williams plenty to smile about. He is now carrying Scott’s bag on a permanent basis after being unexpectedly sacked by Woods last month.

But then again, Woods, who missed the last two majors because of his knee and associated Achilles heel injuries and hasn’t played any competitive golf since May 12 when he was forced by his injuries to pull out of The Players, would not have been too unhappy with his first-time-back performance in a fierce WGC arena packed with the globes finest golfers.

And this with the head of his course design business, Bryon Bell, carrying his bag instead of a professional caddie.

Nick Watney, one of America’s best prospects to win a major, was a further two shots back after posting a 65, but it seemed that most of the focus on the first day at Firestone was on Woods, who, playing alongside Northern Ireland’s new Open Champion Darren Clarke, attracted massive galleries.

Woods seemed to thrive among the masses, but Clarke didn’t, coming back down to earth with a bump with a 77 that left him tied for last.

Woods said afterwards: “This was fun, to be able to hit the ball with that much feeling … and the speed I had! It was pretty nice.

“As anybody who’s been off and who’s been injured knows, on your first time back you get a little nervous to see what happens,” said the 35-year-old multi-major winner who looked relaxed and happy with himself afterwards.

“But my practice sessions were good so there was no reason why I should have been worried out there. I went out and just let it go, let it rip.”

Scott, in the meantime, bubbled with enthusiasm.

“I played extremely solid today,” said the 31-year-old Australian who is bidding for his eighth PGA Tour title.

“For the first 15 holes, I struck the ball beautifully.”

Making the most of rain-softened conditions on the heavily tree-lined South Course, Scott whisked up a flawless display as he surged past Day, the talented Aussie young gun he tied with for second place at the Masters

Scott, with Williams on his bag for a fourth tournament, picked up three birdies on the front nine of his bogey-free round, covered the back nine in a blistering five-under and then pronounced the Conditions “perfect for scoring”.

“It was not what we’re used to seeing around this course, so it was good to take advantage,” Scott added.

It was two monster putts – from 28 feet at the 15th and some 30ft at the 17th that enabled Scott to go into the lead.

“I thought seven under was pretty low but there were so many other good scores,” Scott said. “I knew if I could play well and get that putter going, there was a good score out there for me.”

Day, with seven top 10s in 15 starts so far this season was also delighted, and especially with the quality of his ball-striking.

“I hit driver well and hit a lot of good quality iron shots,” the 23-year-old Australian said after his bogey-free round.

“I hit a lot of good quality putts and it felt like it was a boring kind of a game. It was down the middle, on the green and every two or three holes was a birdie which was nice.”

Day won his first PGA Tour title at last year’s Byron Nelson Championship and he relishes taking on the game’s top golfers.

“I’ve always wanted to play on the big stage, and I’m finally here,” he said.
“Obviously I just want to keep the year going in the right direction. I don’t want to go backwards.”

England’s world number two Lee Westwood fired a 67 and will head into Friday’s second round five shots behind Scott and level with Americans Phil Mickelson, Jonathan Byrd and Keegan Bradley and Japan teenager Ryo Ishikawa.

Top-ranked Briton Luke Donald and US Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland matched Tiger’s 68.

Donald’s tidy round featured two birdies while the 22-year-old McIlroy recovered from two early bogeys with two birdies and an eagle at the par-five second.

“I didn’t get off to the best of starts … but got it back pretty nicely,” said McIlroy, who won his first major title by a stunning eight shots at the US Open in June.

“I’ve still got a little bit to work on, but 68 is not a bad start.”

THE TOP 10 LEADERBOARD

62 Adam Scott (Aus)
63 Jason Day (Aus)
65 Nick Watney (USA)
66 Rory Sabbatini (RSA), D.A. Points (USA), Stewart Cink (USA), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Kim Kyung-Tae (Kor) Martin Laird (Sco), Pablo Larrazabal (Isp), Ryan Moore (USA) 66

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