Akron, Ohio - British world number one Luke Donald shrugged off a sinus infection with a superb putting display to charge into an early share of the lead in Thursday's opening round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
On a firm and fast-running layout at the sun-drenched Firestone Country Club, Donald fired a sparkling four-under-par 66 to join Americans Ben Crane and Masters champion Bubba Watson in a three-way tie at the top.
PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, fellow Americans Bill Haas and Jason Dufner, and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, were among a group of seven players knotted on 67.
World number two Tiger Woods, who is bidding for a record eighth Bridgestone Invitational crown, was among the late starters in the elite field of 78 at the World Golf Championships (WGC) event.
Englishman Donald, joint runner-up here last year, was delighted to be back in the title hunt after totalling only 25 putts on the slick greens at Firestone.
“I got off to a great start,” the 34-year-old told reporters after mixing seven birdies with three bogeys. “I was three under through three, gave a few bogeys back with a few poor drives.
“That's the only thing really I needed to work on after today's media session. But I had the pace and the line on the greens really well. I made a bunch of putts today.”
Donald, who won his fifth PGA Tour title at the Transitions Championship in March, played the opening round in the company of four-times major champion Phil Mickelson, who carded a 71.
“The course was in great shape,” Donald said. “It's always that way. Phil and I were actually talking about that, that the greens are so pure, the fairways are pure, the tees are purer than most of the greens we played growing up as kids.”
Long-hitting left-hander Watson, who claimed his maiden major crown with a stirring playoff victory at the Masters in April, also took advantage of near-perfect scoring conditions.
“First off, the greens are perfect,” said Watson, whose round included an eagle at the par-five second where he sank a 12-foot putt. “They're running real fast.
“Today was ideal. No wind, sunshine, the ball was really travelling far because of the humidity. There's (good) scoring conditions out there right now. I hit my driver somewhat decent, so I had the ability to hit short irons in there and score.”
Crane, a four-times winner on the PGA Tour, joined Donald and Watson in a share of the lead despite hitting only five of 14 fairways and reaching just eight of 18 greens in regulation.
“I did not drive it in play today, but I putted awesome, chipped in and just took advantage of some opportunities,” he said after chipping in for birdie at the 17th and totalling 23 putts.
“I read some putts right, lipped a couple putts in. It was just one of those days where I just scored awesome.”
Woods, who can return to the top of the world rankings with victory this week, was one under for the round after four holes.
Australian Adam Scott, who won last year's Bridgestone Invitational by four shots to land his first WGC title, opened with a 71 while British Open champion Ernie Els returned a 73. - Reuters