By Ryan Lewisand Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writers
As a possible prelude to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which begins Sunday night, one of golf’s biggest names is again lurking just behind the leaders.
That fin in the water is Tiger Woods, who shot a 4-under 66 in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday, only 2 shots off the pace (Webb Simpson, 6 under par and Henrik Stenson, 5 under). He started on the back nine and played even golf until getting hot at the turn and making three birdies in four holes (coincidentally, the one hole he didn’t birdie in that stretch, the par-5 No. 2, is the easiest hole on the course). Although much of the bite to the aura of Woods surely has been lost the past few years, his waiting in the depths just behind the leaders, particularly at Firestone Country Club, can’t let the likes of Simpson, Stenson and company get comfortable.
“For some reason, this golf course, I just see it,” Woods said after his round. “It’s just one of those venues. ... Luckily over the years, I’ve taken advantage of it. I’ve played well and I’ve scored well, and I’ve won my share of tournaments here.”
Woods did avert danger after an errant tee shot on No. 9 left him way left — actually on the fairway of the 10th hole — and 188 yards to the pin. He stuck his approach 29 feet from the cup and two-putted for par.
“Hey, I count it as a fairway hit,” he joked.
Woods also mentioned he’s using his driver this week, saying he hit “quite a few” on Thursday.
McIlroy meets his goal
After a disappointing start left Rory McIlory 2 over par after 10 holes, he set the goal of finishing the day even par. Three birdies in a four-hole stretch beginning at No. 12 got him there despite a bogey on No. 18.
His longest birdie was a 20-footer on 13.
“I birdied 12 and 13, which got me back to par, then I started to hit some really good shots,” McIlroy said. “[McIlroy is] just trying to stay patient. I mean, we’ve got four days here, so no point in trying to be aggressive.”
Golf fans were treated to an afternoon pairing of Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson, the reigning U.S. Open and British Open champions. The two chatted about Mickelson’s remarkable final round at Muirfield, which looked familiar to Rose.
“[Mickelson] talked about posting a number and the value of posting a number ahead of the leading pack,” Rose said. “He said, ‘That’s what you did to me at Merion and it makes it tough.’
“I feel pleased for Phil. Obviously he deserves a U.S. Open after all his second places, but I think winning the Open Championship was a big thrill for him. And yeah, he’s always been good to me. I’ve always enjoyed playing golf with Phil. For me it was a fun day.”
It’s not easy to get a smile out of Woods on the golf course. But a little boy has managed the feat two years running.
During Thursday’s opening round, Woods birdied his second-to-last hole, running in a nice putt to card a 3 on No. 8.
As he walked from the eighth green to the ninth tee, A.J. Hatfield, age 5, dressed in an oversize Rickie Fowler hat and sitting in a tiny lawn chair, yelled out: “Way to go, Tiger! You’re the bomb!”
Woods couldn’t help but laugh along with the spectators and flash the Dayton boy a warm look.
His mom, Tracy Hatfield, said A.J. made another off-the-wall comment during last year’s tournament and Woods actually had a brief conversation with the boy.
“Hey, little dude,” Tiger reportedly said. “How you doin’?”
The non-bashful boy, then only 4, immediately shot back: “Great! How are you?”
Along with Woods, Ryan Moore, Chris Wood and Keegan Bradley all sit 2 strokes behind Simpson at 4 under par. Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas, Jim Furyk and Luke Donald all carded a 3-under 67.
Watson found his way onto the leaderboard in a similiar fashion as Woods. Both started on the 10th tee, both played the back nine even and then started scoring after making the turn. Watson eagled No. 2 and then birdied No. 3 before parring the final six holes.
Green Monster Challenge
Fans can get some glimpse of what it’s like to tackle the Monster 16th hole at Firestone Country Club, albeit it after its been cut down to size.
Near the Fan Zone tents (located behind the 18th green) is a larger enclosing where fans can sign up and try an approach shot of approximately 32 yards. It’s formatted to replicate an approach shot to the 16th green at Firestone on a one-third scale (it replicates a third approach shot, not someone gunning for the green from 275 yards). Put on by Bridgestone, each entry gets 2 shots. Land on the green, and you win a sleeve of Bridgestone golf balls. Make a hole-one-one, and you have a choice between $150 toward Bridgestone tires or $150 to Bridgestone golf and a 12-pack of the Bridgestone B 330 RX golf balls.
Dan Crowe, Account Coordinator for Bridgestone, says the exhibit had 900 people take their swings on Wednesday, the first day, and had one hole-in-one.
The exhibit is made mostly from a wood base, foam and turf and includes a to-scale green and the lake that has to be cleared on the approach.
Crowe and Bridgestone were approached by the tour after a similar challenge experience was put on for the iconic 17th green at TPC Sawgrass. The exhibit at Bridgestone is the second of its kind.
Tony Krampel, a University of Akron graduate who was formerly on the same Zips golf team as Firestone General Manager Mark Gore, has developed a more efficient and versatile way to keep the PGA Tour driving ranges clean.
Krampel’s Range Tape could replace the normal yellow ropes that the tour and most golf courses use to move players along the golfing range to keep the grass as clean as possible. Instead of rope that can sway and can look messy if not tended to, Krampel’s tape is a polyester web material that’s pegged into the turf. That component can be made into any color and most importantly, can include an opportunity for advertising.
The PGA Tour Rules Committee OK’d the new tape a few weeks ago. It’s making its debut at Firestone this week. Currently, the tape is black with the Bridgestone logo worked in every few feet. The immediate feedback has been positive.
“A lot of people love it, a lot of people say they’re shocked that it hasn’t been done before,” Krampel said on Thursday. “It’s really filling a need for branding space. Back in ‘09, we had a product that was black vinyl mesh. I didn’t think it was as good as it could be so we shelved it until three months ago, and now this is the debut. This product is kinda my baby.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Bridgestone blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/bridgestone-invitational. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ.