Rickie Fowler’s front 9 during the first round of Thursday’s Bridgestone Invitational was indicative of what he’s been trying to accomplish with his all-around game the last couple of weeks.

Fowler enters this week ranked No. 7 in the world, but surviving until the weekend has been his biggest challenge recently. Fowler has missed three of his last four cuts, including the Players Championship, the Memorial Tournament and the U.S. Open.

On Thursday, he bogeyed the par-4 No. 1, another tough start for a talented player who hasn’t had anything go right in weeks.

Then, the rebound — four birdies in eight holes — and all of a sudden Fowler found his stride, the same one that propelled him into the world’s top 10.

Fowler hopes it was that stretch of holes that turns things around, especially with his putter.

“That’s a lot of it, and it can start weighing on the golf swing, you start pressing, and the putter can save a lot,” Fowler said. “You see I made some good putts to keep it going today and salvaged a decent round.”

Scoring well while perhaps not having his best swing is what has been missing from Fowler’s bag recently. He’s been penalized for every misstep instead of recovering, grinding out a par and moving on to the next hole. That was until Thursday.

“Yeah, I’d say today was a little bit more of how I’ve been the past couple years as far as how I was in ’14 at the majors and managing — when I don’t have everything going well and still managing to get it around and make some good par putts and keep the momentum rolling,” he said.

“I feel like that’s where I’ve been struggling kind of a little bit of the first half of the year after the win in Abu Dhabi but coming back. I still played well in Phoenix, but after that, it felt like the putter kind of went a little south and wasn’t making putts that you need to to keep momentum going.”

Double time

World No. 3 Dustin Johnson shot a 1-under 69 Thursday, his first official round of golf since winning the U.S. Open. He also had his eye on Omaha, Neb.

His alma mater, Coastal Carolina, defeated the University of Arizona 4-3 to win the College World Series, the school’s first title. Johnson was still on the course, but he made sure to stay updated.

“My scorer was [keeping] track for me,” Johnson said. “He was following along on his phone, so I would ask him every little bit to see what was going on.”

Was Johnson happier with his round, which put him 5 strokes off the lead, or Coastal Carolina’s win? Coming off Johnson’s first major victory, the Chanticleers’ first championship resonated with him.

“College World Series for sure,” he said. “That’s awesome to see Coastal get it done. First time ever making it to the College World Series and then winning a national championship, that’s pretty special, especially [since] they had a couple elimination games that they had to win and they got it done, so that was pretty cool.”

No shirt, no problem

Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith walked the course with Dustin Johnson after the two hit the driving range on Wednesday. Smith is attending the Bridgestone Invitational this week as part of a charity event for kids facing life-threatening illnesses.

Smith’s identity with Cavs fans now seems to revolve around whether he’s wearing a shirt after he arrived shirtless at the Cleveland airport after Game 7 and the celebration parade. Some fans walking with Johnson’s group were even wearing the shirt that appears to be Smith’s torso, complete with tattoos.

As Smith walked off the course and past fans, he left to a chorus of “Take off your shirt!” and “We’re used to it now.”

Mickelson’s woes

Phil Mickelson struggled on the back 9 and carded a 3-over 73 on Thursday. At plus-1 through the 12th hole, Mickelson bogeyed No. 13 and then double-bogeyed No. 14 after his tee shot landed in a bunker.

Mickelson also struggled to deal with the firmness of Firestone South’s greens.

“I didn’t have the best putting day,” Mickelson said. “I thought I hit a lot of good shots — I just didn’t score very well. I had a hard time getting the ball close. … I thought the greens were quite a bit firmer than what we’re used to. We had some greens taking some pretty good bounces. But it’s in every bit of good of shape as it always is.”

Rounding it out

Billy Hurley III, who only last week garnered his spot in this field by winning the Quicken Loans National, shot a 1-under 69 in his first World Golf Championships event.

World No. 8 Adam Scott continued his streak of over-par first rounds, shooting a 1-over 71, making it six events in a row. Defending champ Shane Lowry struggled on Thursday, posting a 6-over 76. Thus, the only two defending Bridgestone Invitational champs in the field — Scott and Lowry — will go into the second round over par.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com.