Poulter takes advantage of soft conditions; leads Bridgestone Invitational

Akron, OH — Ian Poulter was tired of not finishing well at a Firestone Country Club course he feels comfortable in and Thursday he set out to change.

“It’s frustrating to look at,” he said. “I actually thought I had a better finish than that, so it really annoyed me. For some reason I thought I finished second, but I didn’t know how mistaken I was when I looked at all the numbers. I wrote them all down, they were that bad. 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.”

On a day where conditions were at their easiest, Poulter owns a one-shot lead after play Thursday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, with a tournament-tying low first round of 8-under par 62.

“When you shoot 8-under-par on a notoriously quite difficult golf course, you know, everything has to be right,” said Poulter. “I drove it in the fairway a lot, I gave myself many looks at birdie, 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.”

Both Rickie Fowler and Kyle Stanley are a shot behind Poulter’s lead.

Fowler dialed in five birdies in seven holes and made 109′ 10″ worth of putts with his 26 green-side strokes.

“It’s fun being able to take advantage when the golf course is playing on the easier side,” Fowler said. “We’ve seen this place play very firm and it makes it very hard to hit fairways and ultimately to get the ball on the green or close.
So off to a good start, that’s all you can do Thursday.”

Stanley got off to a quick start firing a 6-under par first nine and held on to take the lead through the morning wave, before Poulter finished one shot better.

Earlier this season, Stanley lost the first hole of a playoff at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, an event ultimately won by Bryson DeChambeau.

“A lot of these golf courses have the same grass as what I play back home and kind of the same look,” said Stanley. “So it’s a place where I think because the courses are fairly similar to what I grew up on and I still live in Washington
now, very similar condition-wise to what I see when I’m home on my off weeks.”

Jon Rahm is one of three golfers tied for fourth place with a 6-under par total. His highlight came on the par-3 15th hole when he holed out from the rough, 47 yards away from the hole.

He admitted that this was the most organized or confident he has been in a while.

“I think people expect a more special answer than what I’m going to give, to be honest, but it wasn’t the best of lies, it wasn’t the worst. It breaks a little left. Let’s just make sure we get it up to the pin and that’s about it. When it’s out of the rough and the greens are fast and soft, it’s hard to get the distance. So I was trying to make sure it gets there
and if it hits the line, it might go in. If not, it’s going to be four to five feet, a radius of five feet.”

Patrick Cantlay also is tied for fourth place and is looking for his second victory of the season after winning the Shriners Hospital for Children Open. He has four other top-10 finishes including a fourth place finish at the Memorial Tournament, missing the playoff by one stroke.

Cantlay switched putters at the Open Championship after using one putter for what he considered “forever”.

“I think just sticking to the game plan’s important, fairways and greens, below the hole, give yourself as many looks as possible and you can be in a pretty good spot,” he said. “You can make some good scores out here with how soft it is, but I think it might firm up a little as the week goes on.”

Si Woo Kim also is tied for fourth and did not speak to reporters after the round.

Seven players are tied for seventh including Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Justin Thomas. Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama is tied for 21st place at 3-under par. World number one Dustin Johnson is -1 after one round of play.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational First Round Leaderboard

1. Ian Poulter -8

T2. Rickie Fowler -7

T2. Kyle Stanley -7

T4. Patrick Cantlay -6

T4. Si Woo Kim -6

T4. Jon Rahm -6

T7. Jason Day -5

T7. Anirban Lahiri -5

T7. Luke List -5

T7. Marc Leishman -5

T7. Rory McIlroy -5

T7. Kevin Na -5

T7. Justin Thomas -5

19th hole

A total of 54 of the 71 golfers in this week’s field had under par rounds. Among those who did not make par were Jordan Spieth (+1), Bubba Watson (+1), Kevin Kisner (+4) and Bryson DeChambeau (+5)… There were eight bogey-free rounds on the course Thursday in Ian Poulter (62), Rickie Fowler (63), Jason Day (65), Luke List (65), Rory McIlroy (65), Patrick Reed (66), Daniel Berger (67) and Matt Kuchar (68). The par-5 2nd hole played easiest Thursday with a score of 4.507 to par and the par-4 9th played hardest at 4.268… According to a tweet from Associated Press reporter Doug Ferguson, the 68.366 first round average score was the lowest first round score on TOUR this season.

Author: Zac Weiss