Rory McIlroy sees the positives at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Webb Simpson holds one-stroke lead over Henrik Stenson after first round
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to a missed birdie putt on the first hole during the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament in Akron, Ohio, on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters
Too soon, just yet, to confirm if he has quite turned the corner, but Rory McIlroy’s opening round of level par 70 in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio – which left him six shots adrift of first round leader Webb Simpson – had the 24-year-old Ulsterman accentuating the positives following on from the disappointment of his missed cut at the British Open.
“If I can keep hitting the ball on the fairway and hitting good iron shots and giving myself plenty of chances for birdies, that’s all I can ask for,” said McIlroy, the world number three, who bounced back from a double-bogey six on the 10th to claim three birdies in four holes from the 12th to provide indicators that his game, a week ahead of his defence of the US PGA championship, is getting back some of the old sharpness.
McIlroy seemed to be headed for further woes in a somewhat turbulent season when he suffered a double bogey on the 10th as he turned for home, only to roll in birdie putts from 10 feet on the 12th, 15 feet on the 13th and five feet on the 15th to revive his round, only to suffer a closing bogey after being in trouble off the tee on the 18th.
“I threw two shots away at the 10th. I felt if I could get back to even par, that was my first goal, and I was able to birdie 12 and 13, so that was good, made a good birdie on 15. I saw a lot of good signs, hit a lot of good shots. I threw away some shots around the greens but with a bit of competitive play and a little more sharpness, that should be rectified pretty easily,” said McIlroy, who has worked extensively with short-game guru Dave Stockton in recent days.
Former US Open champion Simpson, on his debut appearance in the event, assumed the lead with a 64, but seven-time champion and world number one Tiger Woods again demonstrated his fondness for the Akron lay-out with an opening 66 that put him right into the mix.
As new British Open champion Phil Mickelson struggled with his putter in shooting an opening 72, Woods – seeking his first win in the championship since he captured a seventh title in 2009 – reaffirmed his affinity with the course. “For some reason with this golf course, I just see it. It’s one of those venues,” admitted Woods, who recovered from an up-and-down front nine, which saw birdies at the 10th and 14th and bogeys at the 11th and 17th, to hit form after the turn with birdies on the first, third, fourth and eighth.
“I feel very good about what I’m doing with basically my whole swing,” said Woods, chasing his fifth win of the season. “I hit a lot of good shots. I had a really good feel for the distance and Joey (LaCava) and I really really read the wind right. It was good. We changed a few shots out there, and we both had a really good handle on what we were doing feel-wise.”
Woods, who struggled with his putting in the British Open, was 18-for-18 on putts inside eight feet in his first round but didn’t manage to hole any longer than 10 feet. Still, he was content with his work on the greens. “I thought I putted well, I had a good speed to it,” admitted Woods, who is aiming to use the Bridgestone as a winning tune-up to next week’s US PGA Championship, just as he did in 2009 when he completed back-to-back wins. Woods hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation, and shot his 66 despite failing to birdie any of the Par 5s.
Simpson – who missed last year’s championship due to the birth of his second child – took the clubhouse lead with a fine 64, that gave him a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson who put his recent good form down to “good long term work”.
McDowell and Lowry
For Graeme McDowell, who opened with one-over 71, and Shane Lowry, who shot 72 on his first return to Akron since making his debut there in 2009, there was further post-round work conducted on the range with one eye on this week’s event and another on next week’s closing Major at Oak Hill.
McDowell, who has three wins under his belt on the US and European Tours this season as well as a number of missed cuts in an unpredictable season, worked with coach Pete Cowen afterwards
“My swing’s a little bit inconsistent at the minute. I’m really trying to get on the right path. I feel as if I’ve been jumping from one swing thought to another lately.
“It’s nobody’s fault really, just sometimes you can know too much about your golf swing and just working with Pete and trying to get my legs a little bit stronger through the impact. I have a tendency to come up and out of the ball very quickly.”
Of the inconsistency in his game, blowing hot one week and cold another, McDowell admitted: “Winning, it’s top heavy out here (on tour), financially and most importantly world ranking points, and winning three times in the first six months of the season, peppered with some inconsistency, leaves me a little frustrated.”
McDowell struggled on the greens and, having started well with a birdie on his second hole, the 11th, he was knocked back on his back nine with a double bogey six on the first before bouncing back with a birdie on the second. He dropped a further shot on the sixth.
Lowry’s round started well with birdies on the first and fourth but back-to-back bogeys on the seventh and eighth saw him turn in level par and, after finding another birdie on the 13th, he dropped shots coming in on the 14th, 16th and 17th to sign for a 72 with his lack of accuracy off the tee – finding just 35 per cent of fairways – uncharacteristically putting his game under pressure.