AKRON, Ohio – It’s felt more like October than July in Northeast Ohio of late, but the arrival of the sun and some humidity made for nearly ideal scoring conditions at Firestone Country Club on Thursday.
It wasn’t long before Tiger Woods started making birdies.
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He’s done this before.
The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer came away believing he can keep doing it this weekend, too. Woods is two shots off the lead at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational after one round, having fired a 4-under 66 Thursday morning.
Woods has won this event seven times, and he’s won it in different fashions. He hasn’t won a tournament since May and hasn’t been in peak form through the summer, but he maintained that he came to this tournament of sound mind and body and confident in his chances.
There are 54 holes left, but this feels like home.
“It’s hard to explain, but I just feel comfortable seeing the shots here,” Woods said. “I still have to execute, obviously, but over the course of my career I’ve done all right at doing that.
“For some reason with this golf course, I just see it. Luckily over the years I’ve taken advantage. I’ve scored well and won my share of tournaments here.”
With the chance to swing away and attack soft greens, Woods was aggressive Thursday and good with the putter, something he said he spent some “extra time on” Wednesday after arriving at Firestone from a practice round at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
“I feel really good about what I’m doing with basically my whole swing,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good shots. I had a really good feel for the distance … and the wind today. It was good.
“The course will get quicker, no doubt. The greens are still fast, but they’re holding. Guys are going to be aggressive into these flags.”
Woods started his day on No. 10. He made the turn to the front of the course at even par, then posted four birdies without a bogey on the back. He hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation, the best percentage of any player on Thursday.
Woods has won four of the five Bridgestone Invitationals in which he’s posted a first-round 66 or lower.
Webb Simpson leads at 6-under, one shot ahead of Henrik Stenson and two better than the group that includes Woods, Ryan Moore, Chris Wood and 2012 Bridgestone champion Keegan Bradley. Simpson’s first competitive round at Firestone Country Club was highlighted by a stretch of four consecutive birdies. He made eight birdies altogether, the most of anyone in the field, and made his second bogey on his last hole of the day.
Simpson is still chasing his first win since the 2012 U.S. Open. He didn’t play here last year due to the birth of his daughter and didn’t qualify in 2011, when he was ranked 51st in the world.
“I just kind of listened to my caddie (Paul Tesori) because he’s been here,” Simpson said. “I was anxious. This tournament draws an incredible field every year. You want to play where the best players in the world are playing. It was nice to finally get in and and know that I was going to play a tournament at Firestone.”
The new guy isn’t just happy to be here; he’s happy to be leading the world’s best golfers. Maybe he’ll be even better on Friday now that he’s seen the course for a full round.
Woods is looming. He knows his way around — and the way to the trophy presentation.