Fairways And Roughs Title

Pieters takes early lead, Spieth feeling confident

By PGA Tour News
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AKRON, Ohio. – Notes and observations from Thursday’s opening round of the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational where Thomas Pieters found his way to the lead after a 5-under 65. Belgian Thomas Pieters was bogey-free to be one clear of Scotland’s Russell Knox (66). Six players, including former FedExCup champions Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth share third at 3-under. For more from Firestone Country Club, check out the Daily Wrap. SPIETH VETOES GRELLER VETO Jordan Spieth is still understandably riding a confidence high after his fightback win in The Open Championship – so much so he’s trying, and pulling off, impossible shots. Sitting in the right rough on Firestone Country Club’s eighth hole (his 17th of the day) Spieth appeared completely blocked out by trees. As caddie Michael Greller went about looking for the right layup spot Spieth said, “I’m going to do something stupid here.” As Greller went to invoke one of his vetoes Spieth quipped, “Just put the bag over there and watch, Okay?” The former FedExCup champion then went about hitting a wedge through the jungle of trees to 22-feet. “I hit one of the best shots I've ever hit in my life today,” Spieth said in his first start since his famous recovery shot from the driving range at Royal Birkdale. “Michael came over and he’s like, “Where are you looking here” and afterwards he said, “I really wanted to use one of my vetoes,” but he goes, “The timing of it, the first round after we win a major, there was no use in me using a veto there. “I split a hole that was 60 yards in front of me with a pitching wedge and cut it to get onto the green. It was a really cool shot. I was shocked I pulled it off after, and normally when I see it, I kind of expect myself to do it.” At round end Spieth signed for a healthy 3-under 67 to be tied third just two shots back. Just a few holes earlier he had bagged back-to-back long range putts including a 51’11” bomb on the 6th. It’s a fun time to be Jordan Spieth. DRIVER WOES DON’T PUNISH PIETERS Firestone Country Club rough is pretty penal at the best of times but for Thomas Pieters it was no sweat as he miraculously went bogey-free despite hitting just four of 14 fairways. The Belgium bomber had to slide his driver back in the bag and throttle down to his 3-wood after losing all confidence with the big stick. Despite ranking T65 in driving accuracy in a 76-man field Pieters carded five birdies to lead the way in his World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational debut. “I can't hit the damn thing,” Pieters said of his driver. “Off the tee I was very bad but managed to find a lot of greens and I didn't leave myself too many downhill putts, so I think that was key. “I hit plenty of 3-woods. When I hit driver, I shouldn't have, I was just not confident with it. So I'll have to do plenty of work on the range this afternoon, I'm sure I'll get it back.” Pieters, who accepted Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR earlier this year, is looking to improve on his three top-5 finishes. He was tied second at the Genesis Open, T5 at the World Golf Championships – Mexico Championship and T4 at the Masters. He is on track to earn a tour card for next season but would become eligible for this year’s FedExCup Playoffs if he were to win at Firestone. “I've had good results this year. I've been in contention, that's all I want to do. I just haven't had that win,” he said. “I feel like if I had a win already this year, my year would have been really good, but I just haven't finished it off. I still have plenty of tournaments to go, but even if I get myself in contention 10 more times and don't win, that's all you want to do. “Of course you have to finish it off (eventually), but I'll learn that along the way.” McILROY ADJUSTS TO EXTRA WORK It has been quite a few years since Rory McIlroy paced out and calculated his own yardages but the FedExCup champion was pleased with his efforts in his first round with new caddie Harry Diamond. Diamond, McIlroy’s close friend who took over from long-time looper J.P. Fitzgerald, played the role without too much issue. While there were a few loose shots here and there the pair seemed to work well together as McIlroy put up a tidy 3-under 67 to be just two shots off the lead in a tie for third. “Awesome,” was how McIlroy described his friends debut. “We both did the numbers and I sort of consulted him a couple of times. It was good. “There was a couple of shots that I hit or a couple of clubs that I pulled that I maybe should have just thought a little bit more about, but, no, really good.” McIlroy was impressive on the way to leading the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee but his approach game, particularly his wedges, left a bit to be desired. He missed seven greens and averaged 35-feet in proximity. But his putter bailed him out for the most part. He is looking to replicate his 2014 heroics where he won at Firestone before backing up to win the PGA Championship. He has circled this PGA for some time as it is at Quail Hollow, where he has two PGA TOUR wins. “I’m just looking for good signs in my game. I got off to a good start here. Go out and hopefully see little improvements as the week goes on,” he added. “Hopefully tomorrow I can drive it similar again. Maybe my wedge play can get a little bit sharper as the week goes on. I feel if I do that, taking the result out of it, obviously, I would love to win, I would love to go into next week with a lot of confidence.” CALL OF THE DAY HONEST KNOX KNOCKING ON DOOR Russell Knox quietly put himself in second place with a 4-under 66 thanks to an old friend. Knox, a former WGC winner in China, hasn’t had a top 10 finish this season since finishing third at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba last November. But it was his old putter, with which he won the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions in the 2015-16 season, that was his special weapon. “I figured it did work at one point,” he said. “I rolled the ball beautifully. I switched iron shafts, which I haven't done in five years. That seemed to make it a little easier for me.” Knox was upfront when asked why he ever went away from said putter. “I don't know, we're sick, man. Us golfers are sick. I mean, it's amazing, I've probably went through 20 putters since then and just doing the search, but today felt unbelievable,” he said. “It's a good lesson. You always blame your equipment rather than yourself, so maybe I just have to take the blame and say I sucked and the putter worked.” ODDS AND ENDS Defending champion Dustin Johnson carded a 2-under 68 to sit well poised in a tie for ninth. Johnson has three wins this season, including the last two WGC’s played, but hasn’t won since the WGC – Dell Match Play in March. He hopes a new driver will be the catalyst to yet another victory. “The game's there, it's there for sure. I'm starting to play golf again. I'm not out there trying to find it,” he said. “I got a new driver this week. I got a higher loft, I'm using actually a 12-degree but opened up so I can get it to fade a little bit easier.” Adam Scott, the 2011 champion, surged to the lead at 5-under through 12 holes before a late mini collapse. Scott, who needs to bank a bunch of FedExCup points in the next two weeks before taking paternity leave, bogeyed four of his last six holes. He managed one birdie in the late stretch to finish at 2-under 68 in a tie for ninth. Bubba Watson has started strongly as he looks to lock up a spot in the FedExCup Playoffs. Watson, who has struggled at times this season, sits 117th on the standings. But a tidy 3-under 67 leaves him tied third and projecting to 92nd, which would lock up post-season play. Jon Rahm eagled the 661-yard par-5 16th hole on his way to recording a first-round 67. In only two previous World Golf Championships starts, Rahm has finished T3 and 2nd in the Mexico Championship and Dell Technologies Match Play, respectively. BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA

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