There have been only four instances of a player winning the Memorial Tournament in suburban Columbus and then the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, the two Ohio PGA Tour events, in the same year.
William McGirt, winner of this year’s Memorial Tournament, has a start on becoming the fifth after shooting a 6-under-par 64 to grab a 3-stroke lead after the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club on Thursday in Akron.
He’s also well aware of the significance of the four instances in which a player won both Ohio tournaments. They all involve one familiar name.
“Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods,” McGirt said. “That would be pretty special company.”
McGirt, a first-time player in the Bridgestone Invitational, had the only bogey-free round of the day, which included three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front 9. He also holed out from a bunker on the par-3 15th to save par.
“It was a good, solid day all around,” McGirt said. “Drove it pretty well with the exception of the tee shot on 18 and had a lot of perfect numbers, perfect yardages. Actually felt better with the putter from 35 or 40 feet than I did from six feet. Missed a couple here or there early on that could have been a couple lower, but I had a couple opportunities to make bogey as well.”
McGirt immediately took a liking to Firestone’s South Course when going through his practice rounds, praising its straightforwardness that demands accuracy, not just bombing every drive.
“I fell in love with the place because length is not everything out here,” McGirt said. “You have to drive it in the fairway. You have to drive it in the correct spots in the fairways to be able to attack pins. I love it because you can’t stand up there and just hit it as hard as you want, go find it and hack it on the green. It’s an old, traditional style golf course, which I absolutely love. … Maybe it’s something with Ohio I like.”
McGirt’s 3-stroke advantage is the largest first-round lead in the tournament since it became a World Golf Championships event in 1999. But some of golf’s biggest names are lurking near the top of the leaderboard.
World No. 1 Jason Day, Jimmy Walker and Emiliano Grillo all shot 3-under-par 67s to tie for second. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, World No. 7 Rickie Fowler, Charley Hoffman and Anirban Lahiri carded 2-under-par 68s to tie for fifth.
Spieth entered entered the 15th hole 2 over par and 8 strokes off the lead but finished his round with a flurry of four consecutive birdies. Already one of the more dangerous players in the field, Spieth enters Friday’s second round on a tear, shooting a Thursday-best 31 on the back nine.
“I hit two greens of the first 13 holes, two greens in 13 holes means you’re probably not going to be under par no matter where you’re playing, especially here,” Spieth said. “[I] started hitting some greens and really got that putter hot. I made a couple I maybe didn’t expect to make, and I actually made a couple great par saves that kind of started getting my putter hot, and finally they were more birdie instead of par.”
Fowler bogeyed the par-4 first hole but responded with alternating birdies every other hole through No. 8, putting him at 3 under par at the turn. He finished the day with eight pars and a bogey (No. 17) on the back nine.
“After bogeying the first, it was nice to get things going, make a few birdies on the front nine,” Fowler said. “[I] had a nice chip-in at the fourth. It was a nice day. It was tough to hit fairways out there with the firm conditions. It’s nice to see this golf course play firm. Being earlier in the year, less rain, and not a whole lot in the forecast right now. It’s going to be a fun week.”
For now, some of golf’s biggest names are chasing McGirt, the North Carolina native with one PGA Tour win who’s taken a liking to golf in Ohio.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ