By Joe Smeltzer
Akron, OH— It is safe to say Firestone Country Club’s greens have not been kind to Ian Poulter, as in 13 previous appearances at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Poulter has never finished higher than tied for 13th.
When the beginning of this year’s Bridgestone approached, Poulter— who qualified for the first time since 2015— was well of aware of his lack of success in Akron.
“I wrote [my past scores at Firestone] all down, they were that bad,” Poulter said. “I was like, ‘seriously, how can you play a good golf course this many times and not really have a result?’ So not to even finish in the top-10 is pretty poor.”
When the opening round ended Thursday afternoon, Poulter was all alone in first place, shooting eight under-par and tying the record for the lowest first-round score in the history of the tournament, which was set by Adam Scott in 2011, the year Scott won the event.
In his post-round press conference, Poulter was unable to pinpoint one specific area of his game as the primary key to his success.
“When you shoot eight under par on a notoriously quite difficult golf course, you know, everything has to be right,” he said.”
He did not bogey any holes on the day, picking up eight birdies and parring the other 10.
“I drove it in the fairway a lot,” Poulter said. “I gave myself many looks at birdie, [and] took quite a few of those opportunities. [I] hit a few shots real close and kind of obviously tapped them in. When I needed to make up-and-down, I obviously did that as well. So it was all kind of gelling quite nicely.”
Before missing out on the past two tournaments, Poulter qualified for the Bridgetone Invitational every year from 2005 to 2015.
He has experienced success in 2018, finishing in the top-10 for three tournaments and winning the Houston Open in this past spring in a playoff. Poulter, who is 32nd in the Official World Golf Rankings, sees his return to Firestone as a sign that the year thus far has been positive for him.
“Majors and World Golf Championships mean you’re in the top-50 and obviously you’re doing something quite well,” Poulter said. “So today was nice to kind of get a decent number on the board, give myself some confidence going into the next three days and hopefully I’ll continue that form.”
As well as Poulter performed Thursday, he does not have any room for error. Just behind him on the leaderboard are Rickie Fowler and Kyle Stanley, both at seven under par, and a total of 12 players are within three strokes of Poulter for the lead.
Whether or not he can sustain his early success at Firestone will be determined over the next three rounds, but Poulter is grateful for his fast start.
Although he fell short of Scott’s record, Poulter’s round of 62 was a significant upgrade over his previous first-round best, which was a 67.
“If you would have offered me this at the start of the day, I would have snapped your arm off for it, for sure,” he said. “Yeah, we can be greedy and say ‘I’d love to have holed that putt on 8 to have tied the record, but eight under par is a pretty decent round for me around this golf course.”
Photo credit: PGA TOUR Twitter