Furyk takes charge at Firestone

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Akron, Ohio - Experienced American Jim Furyk outshone the biggest names in the game as he took control of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a dazzling seven-under-par 63 in Thursday's opening round.

On a firm and fast-running layout at Firestone Country Club, Furyk piled up seven birdies, an eagle at the par-five second and two bogeys to end a sun-splashed day two ahead of Britain's Lee Slattery.

World number one Luke Donald was a further stroke back on 66, level with fellow Englishman Simon Dyson, Americans Ben Crane and Masters champion Bubba Watson, Australia's John Senden and Spaniard Rafael Cabrera Bello.

Second-ranked Tiger Woods, bidding for a record eighth Bridgestone Invitational title, made a solid start but bogeyed three of his last six holes for a 70 to finish seven shots off the pace.

Furyk, who clinched the most recent of his 16 PGA Tour victories at the 2010 Tour Championship, has always relished playing at Firestone and he made the most of the fast-running conditions on Thursday when there was hardly a breath of wind.

“I just did a good job of keeping the ball in front of me,” the 2003 US Open champion told reporters. “I gave myself a lot of good opportunities and had good angles into pins.

“I hit some crisp, good iron shots, hit some close where I had three or four very short birdie putts, and it was nice to see some (longer) putts go in today. I love the golf course.”

The highlight of Furyk's round came at the 526-yard second where he rolled in a 20-foot putt for eagle.

“I hit a pretty good drive and I was in between whether to hit a two-iron or three-wood up there on the green,” the 42-year-old said. “I knocked a three-wood up, it took a pretty nice kick to the left and got up there about 20 feet from the pin.”

Woods birdied the second, 10th and 11th to close within three shots of the early lead in the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) event before his round unravelled.

He bogeyed the 13th, lipping out from five feet, the 16th, where his tee shot sailed right into trees, and also the last, where he three-putted from 24 feet.

“I hit it good today, unfortunately once I got to the greens I probably averaged about four putts per hole,” a frustrated Woods said after totalling 33 putts.

“I hit bad putts. My speed was off. The putts that I (hit purely), I didn't make. And then the bad putts didn't have a chance.

“I'm just going to go out and hit a few balls, reinforce what we're doing. I'm definitely going to putt for a while and work on a few things.”

Donald, joint runner-up here last year, was delighted to be back in the title hunt after needing only 25 putts on the slick greens at Firestone.

“I got off to a great start,” the 34-year-old said 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.”

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.

“Today was ideal,” said Watson, whose round included an eagle at the par-five second where he sank a 12-foot putt. “No wind, sunshine, the ball was really travelling far because of the humidity.

“There's (good) scoring conditions out there right now.”

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.

PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley carded a 67 while former US Open champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland shot matching 70s. - Reuters


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