A public pre-round pep talk paid instant dividends for Ian Poulter as he claimed the lead with a superb opening round in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Poulter has never finished better than 13th in 13 appearances at Firestone Country Club and made no secret of the fact, listing all his results on social media before teeing off with the words: “Time to buck that trend and put in a proper finish.”
And the 42-year-old Englishman gave himself every chance of doing just that after an eight-under-par 62, just one shot outside the course record, gave him a one-shot lead over Americans Kyle Stanley and Rickie Fowler.
On a day of low scoring, Spain’s Jon Rahm carded a 64, former champion Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Justin Thomas were among the players to shoot 65 and Tiger Woods was just a shot further back as he bids to win the title for an incredible ninth time.
Poulter told Sky Sports: “I had a lot of fun. If you shoot 62, especially on this course, you’ve obviously done a lot of good things. I put it in play a lot, hit a lot of good second shots and have myself loads of chances.
“It was really nice to get one on this golf course. I posted my stats this morning and I was really frustrated when I looked at it as a whole.
“Tied 13th was as good as I’ve done and that’s simply not good enough so it was good motivation to look at that this morning, come out and try to be aggressive and post a number.
“I didn’t know the course record was nine under and it would have been nice to get one or two more (birdies), but eight under for me is a great score on this course. There’s a long way to go but when I’m playing as well as I’m playing it’s great to play golf.”
McIlroy finished second in the Open Championship on his last start and is using this event partly as preparation for next week’s US PGA Championship, where he will seek a third victory and first major since 2014.
“I’m starting to drive the ball really well and there are a few tee shots out here if you can carry it over 300 yards it’s a big advantage on the rest of the field,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.
“I just feel like this week is an ideal time to work on a few things. It’s a great range, you get four rounds and sort of have a free run at trying things out. I felt I brought some of the stuff from the range onto the golf course and just have to work on it as the week goes on.
“Honestly we couldn’t have got it easier this morning, no wind, very soft – you had to hit very poor shots to get it off line or to miss greens. Hopefully it firms up a little bit for the rest of the week but it was a day where you needed to take advantage of the conditions and I felt like I did that pretty well.”
Woods made qualifying for the event one of his main goals of the season as the tournament moves from Akron to Memphis next year and the 42-year-old’s opening 66 was his lowest score in the first round of a PGA Tour event since August 2015.
“It’s a place where I’ve done it all different ways,” Woods told Sky Sports. “I’ve been around this property for over 20 years and it was nice to see some of the people I’ve known for years walking a few holes with me and giving me a lot of support. I’m going to miss this place.”
As for his score, Woods added: “It was a bit of a grind today, I fought hard to shoot the score I shot and really felt like I putted well today.”