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Jim Furyk clears his mind, posts a 63 and leads Bridgestone Invitational
AKRON, Ohio (AP) Jim Furyk wanted to clear his mind of everything but posting a good score.
No more thoughts about being 15th in the Ryder Cup standings with only two weeks left to earn one of the eight spots on the U.S. team. No more questions about why the quality of his swing isn't reflected by the scores on his card.
So when someone asked Furyk if he ever considered breaking the course record Thursday at Firestone, his answer was to be expected.
"I don't know what it is," he replied. "So no."
The course record a 61 by Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990 and Tiger Woods a decade later was never seriously challenged. The 7-under 63 by Furyk in the opening round of the Bridgestone Invitational was enough to make him believe he was on the right track.
He went 5 under during a five-hole stretch around the turn, capped off by a 30-foot eagle putt on the second hole, and atoned for a late bogey with a birdie on his next hole to build a two-shot lead over Lee Slattery of England.
Masters champion Bubba Watson took advantage of the long ball as did everyone on a warm day with the course running fast for a 66 that put him in a large group with the likes of world No. 1 Luke Donald, John Senden and Ben Crane, who is over his disappointment from missing out on the British Open.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, shifted into reverse and wound up with a score that can best be described as neutral.
He was 3 under after back-to-back birdies to start the back nine, but had to lay up with his third shot on the par-5 16th after driving into the trees and ended his round with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet for a 70. It was his second-worst start at Firestone, a course where he has won seven times. The other was a 74 in 2010, his last week without a swing coach.
"I think I averaged about four putts per hole, so it was a great day on the greens," said Woods, who lost his touch on the greens but at least kept his sarcasm.
Since missing out on a chance to win the U.S. Open, Furyk has tied for 34th in two tournaments and missed two cuts, including last week in Canada. For a guy on the outside of the Ryder Cup bubble even a win this week would not guarantee him a spot this was no time to be spinning his wheels.
So when he had another weekend off after rounds of 70-70 at the Canadian Open, he flew home for three days.
"I think more than anything I needed a little time to clear my head," Furyk said. "It wasn't anything that was going wrong, (but) why I wasn't playing better. I just felt like I needed to come in here and quit concentrating on trying to be so mechanically sound and just go play some golf and try to score and get the ball in the hole a little bit. It worked today. I did a lot better job of scoring.
"It's been a while since I made seven birdies and an eagle in a round," he said. "So it was a lot of fun."
The average score was 70.33, which is on the low side for Firestone.
Defending champion Adam Scott, in his first tournament since making four straight bogeys to lose the British Open, had a four-putt from just inside 10 feet early in his round and shot 71. So did Phil Mickelson, while British Open champion Ernie Els had a 73.
This is a course where players can smash it off the tee, and most of them did. Watson said he hit driver on all but three of the long holes. When he was asked how many fairways he missed, Watson replied, "I don't know. I shot 4 under. That's all I know."
That ultimately was all that mattered.
Branden Grace of South Africa, who along with Woods is the only player with three wins this year, hit his drive 427 yards on the 656-yard 16th hole that left him only 222 yards to the hole. One problem.
"It was a reasonable opportunity," Grace said. "But I was right between clubs. I could either thump a 3-iron or hit my rescue, and going just over the back of that green and chipping back is not the best."
So he laid up with a gap wedge, and then hit another gap wedge just over the back of the green, the very place where he feared his hybrid might go. He settled for par.
"Tiger and I were talking about it going up the 17th," Grace said. "It's a pity you hit a great drive and go gap wedge, gap wedge. It doesn't make sense."
Grace had one of three drives that traveled over 400 yards, and there were 58 drives of at least 350 yards. Firestone always allows for extra distance when it's dry and the fairways are running fast. But it reached the point that when Furyk was told he hit seven drives over 300 yards, he said, "That's it?"
"I never crack the top 150 in driving distance on tour," Furyk said. "If all of a sudden, out of all the guys that played today, I was 30th in today's field, I would say I was a lot longer than normal. But if I end up being was there 80 guys in the field, 78? If I was 63rd today, I really wouldn't worry about it."
He was 59th.
Woods, meanwhile, said he would head to the practice green to work on his pace.
He missed nine putts from around 15 feet or closer, including a couple of them inside 5 feet for par. The rest of his game was reasonable, and starting out seven shots behind is no cause for him to panic.
"I was 3-under par. I mean, that's not that bad," Woods said. "At the time I was three back of the lead and hadn't made a thing. I thought that was a good sign. Unfortunately, finished awful and here we are."