After some relative struggles this year, Retief Goosen finally got off to the start he's been looking for in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
With the help of an early tee time and tamer conditions at Firestone Country Club's South Course this year, Goosen shot a 4-under-par 66 Thursday in Akron, Ohio, to take a one-stroke lead. The South African birdied five of his first 11 holes and then parred six of his last seven, making his only mistake on No. 15 as he took a bogey four when his tee shot plugged in a bunker.
"I played solid today," Goosen told reporters. "The first time I missed the fairway was No. 11, I think, so I drove the ball well and scrambled a bit at the end."
His early birdie barrage was capped by a chip-in birdie on the par-4 11th.
"I drove it in the right rough, tried to hit a low shot out and it nipped the tree and came out five yards short of the green, but I had about a 30-yard chip," Goosen said. "It was actually one of those that - where I was coming from - if you just land it in the right place, you just know it's going to be close, and I was happy it went in."
Thursday's 66 marked the first time this year that Goosen has shot in the 60s during the opening round and was his lowest opening round on the PGA Tour since shooting a 66 in the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. This is the fifth time Goosen has been atop the leaderboard — either solo or tied — in his PGA Tour career.
It was also Goosen's best opening-round at Firestone Country Club. He shot an opening-round 65 at the 2002 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but that event was played at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash.
Goosen said he's struggled with his swing for much of this year and spent the early part of the week working on it at home with his coach. Goosen's best finish so far of the 2008 PGA season is a tie for second at the WGC-CA Championship.
"My swing ... we're slowly getting it to where we want it to be - just a matter of getting out there and playing," Goosen said. "Everything is starting to fall together. My putting is a little bit better, I think, as well."
The scores obviously benefited from much shorter rough this year at Firestone. Last year, Tiger Woods was the only player to break par in the event, but 33 of 80 players finished in red numbers on Thursday.
"I'm not saying it's playing easy," Goosen said. "But the rough is not nearly as thick as it was last year."
Tim Clark, Daniel Chopra, Vijay Singh and Zach Johnson all shot 3-under 67 and trail Goosen by one stroke. Last week's RBC Canadian Open champion Chez Reavie is among a large group of players that includes Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Rocco Mediate, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk at 2-under 68.
Mickelson had perhaps the shot of the day. Left of the trees on the 18th fairway and 169 yards from the hole, Mickelson drilled a 4-iron under the trees and wound up leaving himself a 15-foot putt, which he made for a closing birdie.
Such a shot would've been almost impossible in last year's rough. Like many, Mickelson said he liked the conditions at Firestone much more this year.
"I think that when the course is set up like this, you have a chance to recover and hit shots and be creative," Mickelson told reporters. "That gives the top players an opportunity to showcase their talents."
The tournament is also wide open for taking. Woods, who has won three consecutive years and dominated the event, is out for the year after having knee surgery.
His absence certainly wasn't lost on Goosen.
"The guy that's won here every year is not here, and all the losers are still here," Goosen said. "It's nice."
Jeff Overton has the lead and Michelle Wie has a chance to make the cut after first-round play Thursday in the Reno-Tahoe Open at Montreux Golf and Country Club.
Overton opened with a 7-under 65 to take a two-shot advantage. Harrison Frazar, Brian Davis, Marco Dawson and John Merrick are all tied for second at 5-under 67.
Wie, attempting to make her first PGA Tour cut in eight starts, shot a 1-over 73 and is tied for 77th. She had bogeys on her first and fifth holes before making birdies at Nos. 6 and 9. The teenager made two more bogeys on the back nine before closing birdie-par.
August 1, 2008
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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