It’s good to be back at Firestone, at least if you are Tiger Woods.
Returning to a course he’s dominated like no other in the world, Woods shot a four-under 66 in the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday in Akron, Ohio.
Woods has won at Firestone eight times in his career but hasn’t played the event since 2014, when he withdrew. His last win there came in 2013.
Woods, whose only bogey came on his final hole, finished three back of clubhouse leader Kyle Stanley, who led the early wave with a seven-under 63. Rory McIlroy and Jason Day shot 65 and are two back.
“I kind of fought out a score today, which was good,” Woods said. “I didn’t really kind of have it today with my ball-striking but just hung in there.”
Playing the first round of what is about to be a busy stretch of tournaments for the 14-time major champ, Woods had great control of his golf ball early.
Starting on the back nine, he opened his day by missing a seven-footer for birdie on the par-4 10th, catching a piece of the lip, but converted on a five-footer for birdie on 11. Woods didn’t miss a fairway until he pulled his drive on the 18th hole (although he got a little help from a tree on 13).
After two-putt pars on 12, 13 and 14, Woods pushed a makable birdie attempt from 11 1/2 feet on 15, but he finally cashed in on the 16th. Playing the long par 5, Woods hit driver off the tee, laid up to 94 yards and stuck a wedge to 10 feet, which he rolled in to get to two under.
On 18, Woods followed his first missed fairway of the day by missing his first green, although he did well to punch out and roll it up to just short of the putting surface. From there he drained a 50-footer to make the turn in three-under 32.
Woods’s missed fairway on 18 was the first of five straight, and on the 2nd he made a clutch seven-footer to save par — his first real par test of the day. A drive well left on the 3rd was followed by a missed green right and his first bunker shot of the day, but Woods had a clean lie and blasted out to within six inches, tapping in for another par and keeping his round bogey-free.
After struggling to find the fairway to begin his second nine, Woods mercifully stepped up to the first par 3 of the front and took advantage. He stuck his tee shot to 18 feet on the 5th and made birdie to get to four under. After a two-putt par on the 6th, Woods made another birdie on 7, the second front nine par 3, rolling in his putt from 20 feet to get within two of the lead.
Woods missed the fairway on 8 and had some trouble with his second shot, but maneuvered around the trees with a cut shot he liked immediately.
“Be good,” Woods said, staring it down.
The ball rolled onto the green and he two-putted for par, once again escaping without a blemish, but he couldn’t keep his card completely clean. Woods found the fairway bunker on the 9th and put his second shot in the rough. He hit a nice shot from about 60 yards to give himself an eight-footer for par, but he pushed it to the right to close with a bogey.
Woods’s second round tee time is 2:10 p.m. ET on Friday.