Padraig Harrington shot his lowest round of the year to take a two shot lead on the opening day of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
Seven days before he is due to defend his US PGA Championship title at Hazeltine National and following a year of mixed results as the Irishman has sought to improve his swing, Harrington shot a six under par 64 at Firestone Country Club.
Two weeks after relinquishing The Open Championship title for the first time in three years, Harrington arrived in the United States in extremely positive mood and that translated into an excellent opening round of golf as he opened with a birdie at the tenth hole on the tough, 7,400 yard, par 70 South Course, the first of six in a bogey free round.
“I played the first 11 holes particularly well, gave myself a lot of chances,” said Harrington. “I missed a short birdie putt on the 11th hole of the golf course. You know, at that stage I suppose I'm still wondering which way it's going to go.
“On the 13th I missed the green and made a very good up and down, and I think that was important in my round. I felt like I was going forward from there, felt like I was looking to make birdies on every hole. If I hadn't have got up and down there, I might have gotten back in the track I've been on the last six months of being very defensive.”
Harrington will take a two stroke lead into the second round over playing partner Scott Verplank of the USA and early pacesetters Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand and South Africa's Tim Clark.
England's Ian Poulter is a further shot behind at three under following a 67, a score matched by Americans Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson, while there were 68s from World Number One and six time Firestone winner Tiger Woods as well as fellow American Hunter Mahan, Australian Robert Allenby, New Zealander Danny Lee and Spanish duo Miguel Angel Jiménez and Sergio Garcia.
Open Championship winner Stewart Cink, playing for the first time since defeating Tom Watson in a play-off at Turnberry last month to claim his first Major victory, was in a large group at one under that also featured US Open champion Lucas Glover, The Players champion Henrik Stenson and two time US PGA Tour winner this year Kenny Perry, as well as English trio Nick Dougherty, Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson.
Defending champion Vijay Singh, World Number Two Phil Mickelson and Masters Tournament champion Angel Cabrera were in another large group that posted level par 70s.
Also at level par were England's Luke Donald and Ross Fisher, who admitted he had come into the tournament short of practice following the birth of his first child, Eve Rose, who was born the Saturday after he had contended on the final day of last month's Open Championship.
"Hardly played at all to be honest," Fisher said. "I had two days of practice at home so not as tournament prepared as I would have liked to have been but obviously circumstances have changed at home so that is the way it is at the moment.
"It was a decent start but it was a bit frustrating.
"I felt like I played really good for my front nine but just couldn't get anything going on the greens, didn't hole anything.
"Then I hooked a drive up the first almost in the water and hit a shocking three wood into the second and I walked off with a par and a birdie.
"So it was a little bit of a strange day to be honest but level par is a decent start."
World Number Three and Race to Dubai leader Paul Casey was forced to quit the tournament after only six holes. The Englishman, a three time winner in 2009, was level par for his round when he teed off at the seventh, immediately clutching his chest as he sent his ball into right rough.
He decided to withdraw soon afterwards, complaining of a pulled muscle in his ribcage.