Woods produces B special as Poulter shines in Akron

Jason Day reckons Tiger Woods is poised to “go on a tear” again after the Californian opened his bid for a ninth WGC Bridgestone Invitational title with a 66 in Akron.

While Rory McIlroy looks to be easing ominously into top form as he opened with a bogey-free 65, Woods impressed Day with a four-under-par opening round as he chases yet another win at Firestone Country Club.

"He looks like he's close to going to go on a tear," Day said carding a five-under 65 alongside Woods that left him tied with McIlroy, just three shots behind leader Ian Poulter

"His iron play is unbelievable. They are on line most of the time, and if it's not on line, it's always pin-high. 

"It's incredible the distance control he has out there, and if can get a few on the fairway, he will have more opportunities coming into the greens."

Poulter made eight birdies in an immaculate 62 to lead by a shot from Kyle Stanley and Rickie Fowler with McIlroy tied for seventh and Greystones’ Paul Dunne 55th after hitting just five fairways in a one-over 71.

Woods hit just two more, but he had enough with his B game to post his lowest first-round score on the PGA Tour for 1,079 days.

Despite struggling off the tee on his back nine, the 14-time major winner still found 13 greens and had eight single putts with the pick of them a 50 footer for birdie from just off the 18th green that drew a huge roar.

His monster putt helped him turn in three-under 32, and while he followed birdie twos at the fifth and seventh with a bogey at the ninth, he was pleased to grind out a score without playing his best.

“I thought a good score would be 67 or so,” Woods said. "But it looks like everyone is taking advantage of it. It is soft, and it's so hot the ball is flying forever."

Asked how far he is from hitting top form, Woods added: "Well, it's nice to shoot rounds like I did at The Open and I did today; rounds where I might not be feeling the best but I am able to post a score. 

"That's how you win golf tournaments. You are not going to have your best all four days. Today I wasn't as a sharp as I'd like but I ground out a score." 

While Paul Dunne was among the afternoon starters, McIlroy was pleased to take advantage of easy early morning conditions and post a bogey-free 65.

"It was good," McIlroy said. "Honestly,  we couldn't have got it easier this morning. No wind. Very soft. You had to hit very poor shots to hit it off line or miss greens. 

"Hopefully it firms up a little bit for the rest of the week but it was a day where you needed to take advantage of the conditions, and I felt like I did that pretty well."

McIlroy birdied the 11th and 18th with wedge shots to 10 feet, then added birdies at the second, third and par-three fifth.

Pleased that he's now driving the ball well again, he sees improving his wedge play as key.

"It's getting there," said McIlroy, who was tied for eighth with Day, Marc Leishman, Luke List, Anirban Lahiri, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm. 

"My hands were getting away from my body on the backswing and could only hit cuts. If they put the pins on the right side of every green, I'll be really happy, but I just need to get back to that little draw I've always hit. 

“I've struggled to hit that the last couple of months so I am working to get back to that.

“I feel like I brought some good stuff from the range to the golf course and I just have to keep working on it as the week goes on.”

Poulter’s 62 was the lowest of his PGA Tour career and while he has never finished higher than tied 13th in 13 appearances at Firestone, he was inspired to be "aggressive" by his "terrible" record in Akron.

Gavin six behind in Sweden

Mount Juliet's Gavin Moynihan is six shot adrift of Spain's Adri Arnaus after an opening 70 in the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson.

Moynihan made five birdies at Katrineholms Golfklubb but ended the day in a 20-man logjam for 40th spot, leaving him sitting on the cut line.

Old Conna's Neil O'Briain and Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin were tied for 98th after one-over 73s, but there were no such problems for Arnaus (23), who made eight birdies in a bogey-free 64 to led by two shots from Frenchman Ugo Coussaud and Swedish pair Mikael Lundberg and Simon Forsström.

On the European Tour, Australians Andrew Dodt, Nick Cullen, Jarryd Felton and Ben Campbell shot five-under 67s to take a two-shot lead after day one of the Fiji International at Natadola Bay Golf Club.

Monty shows McGinley the way

Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie fired an immaculate nine-under-par 63 alongside Paul McGinley to lead the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship by a shot from American Clark Dennis at London Golf Club in Kent.

“It was a very good round – no bogies, nine birdies,” Montgomerie said. “I always enjoy playing with Paul McGinley and I usually play quite well with him. There was a good rhythm and we played well together."

McGinley recovered from two bogeys in his first three holes to post a four-under 68 and share 15th place with Eamonn Darcy, Des Smyth and Ronan Rafferty 43rd and level par 72s.

Headfort’s Brendan McGovern was 69th after a  74 with former Ryder Cup winner Philip Walton tied 77th after a 75.