Thursday, 31 July 2014
Justin Rose  (Getty Images)
Justin Rose (Getty Images)

Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel produced impressive finishes to their opening rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to sit one shot off the leader Marc Leishman at Firestone Country Club.

Last year's US Open Champion had a late surge with three birdies in his final four holes, which has him alongside Schwartzel and America's Ryan Moore in a tie for second on five under par.

Rose, who won back-to-back events for the first time in his career leading into the 143rd Open Championship turned 34 yesterday, and he is ideally placed to add to the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open title he won a few weeks ago at Royal Aberdeen.

"So many times on tour we talk about how we left a couple out there and stuff like that, but I think today was one of those days where I got the most out of my round, so it was very pleasing," said the Englishman. 

“I was in a little bit of trouble a few times early in my round, especially on the third hole where I hit it right and had to chip out and then missed the green with a wedge, but I managed to chip in for par. So little breaks like that today obviously kept the momentum going.

"I feel this is right in my wheelhouse of tournaments and courses. I finished second one year at even par, so this golf course can play tough, but if you play really well there's a number out here, especially with it being soft right now.

"If you miss tee shots or miss irons, you're going to make bogeys on this golf course because it is a demanding test. That's what I like about it as it really gives you a reference for where your game's at."

South Africa's Schwartzel started on the back nine and was level par after his first ten holes. Five birdies coming home though, including four consecutive red figures from the fourth, put him in a strong position after round one.

“I got more comfortable as the day went on," said the 2011 Masters Champion. "When I started off the first nine wasn't that great, and I wasn't driving it well, but off that bogey on one I started hitting the ball better and I didn't miss a shot after that, except for the ninth.”

"I don't think it was really something strategically that clicked, I just started getting a good feel in my hands and some good timing came back. The game, at the end of the day, is about feel and if you start feeling better, you start playing better." 

Leishman - fresh from finishing in a tie for fifth at Royal Liverpool - carded eight birdies and two bogeys in his six under par 64.

The Australian said: “To start with I drove the ball well, and it makes this course a lot easier when you're on the fairway, as it's pretty tough playing from the rough.

“I also hit my irons really well and was rolling the ball awesome on the greens. So it's a pretty good combination for a tough golf course like this, and something I can hopefully keep going.”

Francesco Molinari is handily placed to pick up a second career World Golf Championship title, and he book ended his first nine holes with a couple of birdies, before collecting two more in a row from the 14th.

The 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions winner would bogey his penultimate hole to finish in a tie for fifth at three under par, but he was pleased with his opening salvo.

“The course is always in great shape here in Akron," said the Italian. "I played very well on the front nine and maybe not as well on the back, but putted better so made a few more birdies. I'm very happy with the start.”

Sergio Garcia came to Ohio off the back of two second placed finishes, and he is in another strong position to contend this week alongside the likes of Jamie Donaldson and Keegan Bradley at two under par.

On the same mark is defending Champion Tiger Woods, who has won eight times at Firestone Country Club, and he had a mixed bag on Thursday thanks to six birdies, two bogeys and a double on the ninth.

Rory McIlroy is a shot further adrift in tie for 14th spot, on a week where he could reclaim top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings if he were to win and Adam Scott finish outside the top five. The Australian is on the same mark as Northern Irishman though after day one, and will hope to keep that going if he is to hang on to top spot heading into next week's US PGA Championship at Valhalla Country Club.

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