AKRON, Ohio — Tiger Woods showed signs of a positive recovery Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational. Not just from back surgery on March 31, but from making bogeys.
He bounced back with birdies all three times that he made mistakes, opening with 2-under 68 on a soft, gentle day for scoring at Firestone. It left him four shots behind Marc Leishman of Australia and hopeful that this time he can build on a solid start.
Woods opened with 69 at the British Open two weeks ago, only to plunge down the leaderboard the rest of the week at Royal Liverpool. "I hit a lot of good shots," he said. "I dropped shots at three holes out there today (and) got it right back on the very next hole."
For so many players, the opening round of this World Golf Championship felt like either a warmup or an audition for bigger events to follow. Ryan Moore was among three at 65, a good start for someone looking for one big week to get him on the Ryder Cup team. Two more Ryder Cup hopefuls — Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari of Italy — were among those another shot back.
British Open champion Rory McIlroy, who next week will chase his second straight major, was among the leaders until not paying attention to packed sand in a bunker that sent him to a double bogey late in his round. He still wound up with 69.
Leishman has quietly gone about his work in reasonable form, with top 10s recently at Congressional and Royal Liverpool. He had the perfect formula for Firestone, a big golf course where good scores are available by keeping the ball in play.
"I drove the ball well. It makes this course a lot easier when you're on the fairway," Leishman said. "It's pretty tough when you're playing from the rough. Then, I hit my irons really well and was rolling the ball awesome. So it's a pretty good combination for a tough golf course like this, something I can hopefully keep going."
Woods twice has shot his career-best 61 at Firestone, including last year on his way to a seven-shot victory. That he managed six birdies was a sign that he was making putts, even though two of his birdies were tap-ins.
He still had a few wild moments, starting with a three-putt bogey from 10 feet on the opening hole. He hooked his drive so badly on the par-5 second hole that he worried it might not clear the lake on the adjacent third hole. It was far enough left to leave him a good angle with a 5-wood that he put on the green for a two-putt birdie.
His only big mistake was a shot into the trees on the ninth hole. It took him two shots to get out, and from behind the green he couldn't get up-and-down and made double bogey. Just like two other bogeys in his round, he answered with a birdie with a shot into 6 feet on No. 10.
Phil Mickelson's biggest struggle was with his health. He didn't arrive in Ohio until Wednesday night because of strep throat, and he opened with 71.
Martin Kaymer, who went wire-to-wire in winning the Players Championship and U.S. Open, did not record a single birdie while playing with Woods, shooting 77.
PGA: Nick Watney made nine birdies in a bogey-free round at the Barracuda Championship to take a two-point lead in the modified Stableford event. He earned 18 points at Montreux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nev. Players receive eight points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse. Gary Woodland, the winner last year, is playing in the WGC event.