Germany’s Thomas Pieters shot a 5-under round of 65 on Thursday and holds a one-shot lead after the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Pieters began his round on the 10th hole, and birdied the 14th and 16th holes to reach 2-under as he made the turn. He added two more birdies on the Nos. 1 and 2 and then closed with a birdie to card his 65.
Scotland’s Russell Knox is one shot back after a 4-under round of 66 on Thursday. Six more golfers sit another shot off the pace, including Bubba Watson and three players ranked in the top 10 in the world: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Top-ranked Dustin Johnson is three shots off the lead following a 68 on Thursday.
Other notable players include Adam Scott (2-under), Hideki Matsuyama (1-under), Rickie Fowler (Even), Jason Day (1-over) and Phil Mickelson (1-over).
Pieters carded a bogey-free round despite hitting just four of 14 fairways. He eventually put the driver away in favor of hitting drives with his 3-wood.
“I can’t hit the damn thing,” Pieters said. “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.”
McIlroy was pleased with his opening round, which was his first since parting with long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald earlier this week. He has good friend Harry Diamond on the bag, but McIlroy is pacing out his own yardages this week.
“We both did the numbers and I sort of consulted him a couple of times. It was good,” McIlroy said. “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.”
Johnson is the defending champion and has won the past two WGC events he has entered. But he also hasn’t won since the WGC-Dell Match Play in March as he continues to get back to full strength following a back injury suffered the day before the Masters.
“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.”