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Simpson Starts out Hot at Firestone


Webb Simpson carded a 6-under 64 to take the 18-hole lead in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The $8.75 million PGA Tour event began Thursday at the vaunted Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Beginning play on the 10th tee, Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, posted four birdies on his front nine to make the turn in 4-under 31. On his home half, the 27-year-old North Carolinian had four more birdies but dropped shots with bogeys on the third (his 12th) and ninth (18th) holes, both par-4s.

"We did a lot of things well today, made a lot of putts, just played really solid golf. It was unfortunate I bogeyed the final hole," said Simpson, who needed only 22 putts on the day.

Another stroke back is Henrik Stenson, who posted three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 second. The 37-year-old Swede was 3-under after his first two holes. "Birdie-eagle start, you can't get any better than that," Stenson told PGATour.com. "Yeah, I feel I'm playing nicely and just doing my job on every hole and not get ahead of yourself, and whenever I missed I managed to save myself a couple of really nice up and downs today, and yeah, I'm very pleased with the start."

Sharing third after 66s are Americans Ryan Moore, Tiger Woods, defending Bridgestone champion Keegan Bradley, and England's Chris Wood.

Woods, who's won at Firestone an astounding seven times, was happy to get off to a fast start. "I hit a lot of good shots," said the No. 1-rated player in the world, who has four wins this season. "I had a really good feel for the distance today, and Joey (LaCava, his caddie) and I really read the wind right today.

"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 with the wind," added Woods, who recorded six birdies and two bogeys on the day.

Perhaps most importantly, Woods was 18 for 18 on putts inside eight feet. "I thought I putted well. I had good speed to it," said Woods, whose last win in the tournament came in 2009.

Three behind Simpson after 67s are Americans Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas and Jim Furyk, and Brit Luke Donald.

No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy had a wild day on the Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course. The 24-year-old Northern Irishman carded five birdies, but interspersed those with three bogeys and a double on the par-4 10th for a 70.

"I threw some shots away, but felt I could get back to even-par" the two-time major winner said during a greenside interview. "I saw a lot of good signs, hit a few good shots. I drove the ball really good and some of my iron shots were good, too."

This year's three major champions - Adam Scott (Masters), Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and Phil Mickelson (British Open - had mixed results Thursday. Rose is right in the mix after a 69, but Scott and Mickelson have some work to do following a 73 and 72, respectively.

The WGC-Bridgestone is Mickelson's first competition since his breakthrough win at Muirfield two weeks ago in the Open Championship, where he took home his first Claret Jug and fifth career major title. He noted later that fatigue might have been a factor. "I could tell I was a little bit tired or I just wasn't able to see the shot clearly," he told PGATour.com.

"I wasn't able to see the putt roll clearly. I had trouble seeing the shot chipping, and I just had a hard time mentally visualizing and seeing the shot today."

"I certainly didn't want to shoot over-par and leave myself this far back after the first day," Mickelson added. "But my game feels sharp. I feel like I'm rolling the ball well. I know I'm swinging the ball well, and (Friday) if I can just mentally see it a little clearer, I should have a good day."

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, who missed the U.S. Open and British Open because of injuries to his neck, back and hip, was a nonstarter Thursday at Firestone. The 2010 British Open champion announced on Wednesday that he'll be taking off two months to treat his physical problems and rest. He won't be playing in next week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill, but hopes to return by the end of September for the Dunhill Links Championship, a European Tour event in Scotland.

For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/bridgestone-invitational/leaderboard.html.