AKRON, Ohio (AP) It has reached the point where everyone expects to see his name atop the leaderboard, and he got there Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on a course that felt like a major.
Indeed, Hunter Mahan is on a roll.
Coming off four consecutive top 10s that included his first PGA Tour victory, Mahan overcame a sloppy double bogey with a torrid stretch of birdies for a 3-under 67, giving him a share of the lead with Paul Casey and Rory Sabbatini at the Bridgestone Invitational.
That other name that has become a fixture at Firestone Tiger Woods didn't fare too badly, either.
Woods is a five-time winner at Firestone and going after his third straight title in this World Golf Championship. He opened with a 68 that included another memorable shot, this one a 5-wood from 245 yards in the right rough that he squeezed between two trees and just over the back of the green for a simple birdie on the par-5 second.
"Very satisfied," said Woods, who has posted a score in the 60s in the first round all 10 times he has played this course.
Mahan was playing Firestone for the first time, but that doesn't seem to matter. He got his game on track when he shot 63 to qualify for the U.S. Open, and he hasn't let up. There was a victory in Hartford, a 69-65 weekend at Carnoustie to tie for sixth at the British Open, an opening 62 at the Canadian Open, where he eventually tied for fifth.
So when he chopped up the 17th hole for double bogey, there was no need to panic.
"I'm just playing golf," said Mahan, a 25-year-old player from Oklahoma State. "It's just exciting to play this good, to feel like I'm finally reaching my potential and finally playing the way I can. Just going out there and letting go."
For most of the 83-man field, it was a matter of hanging on.
The final major of the year starts next week at Southern Hills, but it sure felt like a major at Firestone. The course is in supreme condition with thick rough and greens that figure to be every bit as slick as the PGA Championship. More than one player watched a putt slide by the hole and keep rolling 6 feet away, and K.J. Choi hit one off the green at No. 12.
Only 13 players managed to break par.