Credit caddie Paul Tesori with an assist for American golfer Webb Simpson’s impressive opening round Thursday at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Simpson sought advice from Tesori and proceeded to card a 6-under-par 64 on the South Course at Firestone Country Club. His 64 featured eight birdies and two bogies, and has him atop the leaderboard of 73 names at the conclusion of Day One in the four-day event.
“My caddie has been here so many years,” Simpson said. “I just kind of had to listen to him. It’s hard for us players to listen to our caddies, but he basically showed me where to go [Wednesday] and told me where to hit it, where the lines were, what clubs to hit. I didn’t feel like it was my first time because he had so much experience here. Had I been with a guy who had never been here, as well, I might have been a little more puzzled.”
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson fired a 65 to sit one shot behind and in second place.
There is a four-way tie for third with American’s Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore and Tiger Woods all shooting 66’s along with England’s Chris Wood. Bradley is the defending champion and Woods is a seven-time Bridgestone champ.
American Phil Mickelson entered the tournament confident following a victory at the 2013 British Open, but shot a 72 Thursday to sit in a tie for 41st.
“I had a good practice session,” Mickelson said. “I’ve been hitting the bally really well, and today I had a hard time focusing. Mentally, I wasn’t sharp. I could tell I was a little bit tired or I just wasn’t able to see the shot clearly. I wasn’t able to see the putt roll clearly.”
Simpson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who turns 28 Aug. 8, teed off Thursday morning on No. 10 with England’s Lee Westwood, and made birdie on Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 18.
“It was a great start,” Simpson said. “It was my first time here. 2011, I was 51st in the world [rankings] and didn’t get in, and last year our daughter Willow was born. So it was a nice entry round for me into this golf tournament.”
Simpson made birdie on Nos. 1, 2, 6 and 7 on the front nine, but made bogey on 3 and 9.
“The course is beautiful,” Simpson said. “The greens are rolling great. Today was one of those days where I just saw the lines well, and my speed was really good. On these greens you’ve got to have great speed because there’s so much slope in the greens, and the better the speed, the bigger the hole.
“They were just going in the middle. It was fun to be out there and shoot a low number on a tough golf course because it’s still playing tough out there with wind, and it was playing long and we weren’t getting a lot of roll in the fairways.
“I wish I didn’t bogey the last hole, but it’s the one area I’ve got to get better at is when I’m between clubs, hitting more club and swinging easy is where I’ve been struggling. There’s always something to work on.”
Simpson is seeking his fourth PGA Tour victory since turning pro in 2008. His most recent win was the 2012 U.S. Open.
Stenson opened his round with a birdie on No. 1 and an eagle on No. 2, and also made birdie on 11 and 12. He had viral pneumonia in 2010’s Bridgestone, which made him feel sick and caused him to finish last in a field of 80 golfers.
“Yeah, it’s not the worst way to start a round at Akron,” Stenson said. “A 5-under bogey-free around here is not something you do every day, I guess, so I’m very pleased with the start of the tournament.”
Woods made birdie on Nos. 10, 14, 1, 3, 4, and 8, but made bogey on 11 and 16.
“I felt pretty good,” Woods said. “It was a little blustery today. Wind was up, greens were soft, but at least the ball was flying. It was warm, ball was going and even though it was a little more wet because of the rain, with it being this warm, the ball is still traveling.”
Wood started his day with a birdie on No. 10, and also made birdie on 1, 2, 3 and 5.
“I missed a few greens early on, and those momentum putts are massive for keeping your round going,” Wood said. “That was a real good thing for me today.”
Moore started poorly, but made birdie on Nos. 2, 5, 6, 12 and 18.
“I started out the day bogeying the first hole, hitting it in a bunker, couldn’t get it to the green, hit a bad pitch and then a bad putt,” Moore said. “Then I just kind of got rolling after that, was able to birdie the second hole, got me feeling a little better and just kind of cruised around.”
Bradley played a bogey-free round with birdies on Nos. 2, 6, 10 and 15.
“ I love everything about this course,” Bradley said. “I’ve always hit the ball well out here, and the course fits me well. I feel good going into the rest of the week.
American’s Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, and Bubba Watson all shots 67’s along with England’s Luke Donald to be three shots behind Simpson.
“With the incredible field it draws every year, this is a tournament you want to be in more than any others with the majors and the FedExCup events,” Simpson said. “You want to play where the best players in the world are playing. It was nice to finally get in and know that I was going to finally play a tournament at Firestone.”
Players tee off between 8:40 a.m.-2 p.m. today, with Simpson set to go off on No. 1 at 1:40 p.m.