Tiger Woods, relishing a return to the WGC Bridgestone Invitational where he has won eight times, fired a four-under par 66 on Thursday to stand three shots off the early pace.
The 14-time major champion teed off on the 10th hole at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, and birdied three of his first nine holes.
Although he struggled a bit more off the tee coming in, he played without a bogey until he found a fairway bunker at his final hole, the par-four ninth.
“I kind of fought out a score today, which is good,” said Woods, whose last tournament title came in the Bridgestone in 2013.
That was followed by years of back trouble that led to spinal fusion surgery in April of 2017.
Outside the top 500 in the world to start the year, he reached 50th in the rankings with a share of sixth place at the British Open and secured his berth in the Bridgestone field for the tournament’s last renewal at Firestone.
Next year the course will host the Senior Players Championship with the elite World Golf Champonships tournament moving to Memphis, Tennessee.
“This has been something special for me to play here over the years,” Woods said. “It’s such a small-town feel here. I’ve seen people I’ve seen for 15 years here. I, for one, am going to miss this place.”
Woods got off to a strong start, setting himself up for birdie at the 11th with a 135-yard approach to four feet.
At the par-five 16th he rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt and after finding the left rough at the 18th he drained a 50-footer to get to three-under.
Woods, who hit six of 12 fairways in regulation, made up for some trouble off the tee with some solid putting, making an 18-footer for birdie at the par-three fifth and a 25-footer for birdie at the par-three seventh.
“I didn’t really kind of have it with my ball-striking today, but I just hung in there and missed it in the proper spots pretty much all day and made a couple of putts,” Woods said. “I putted well today, I really did.” DM
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