Thomas, Fleetwood, Poulter share early lead at Firestone

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Tommy Fleetwood was as familiar with Firestone as most regular American golf tournaments, mainly because of the iconic water tower 120 feet tall in the shape of a golf ball on a red tee. He said the Bridgestone Invitational was among his father’s favorite tournaments.

”He came last year because he always wanted to have a picture in front of the Firestone golf ball, so I’ve always watched this one,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood is playing pretty well in it, too.

The 27-year-old from England capped off a clean round Friday with a 6-iron into 3 feet on the par-5 fifth hole, a 25-foot birdie putt two holes later and a 7-under 63 that gave him a share of the early lead with PGA champion Justin Thomas and Ian Poulter.

”My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots and I holed a few putts,” Fleetwood said. ”You got days like that where it’s going well and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were among those who played in the afternoon.

The South course at Firestone has had two good days for scoring.

Poulter opened with a career-best 62 in PGA Tour-sanctioned events on a day when the scoring average (68.37) was the lowest for a first round at Firestone in the 19 years of this World Golf Championship. He followed with a 67 that featured two bogeys but no big complaints.

”As well as I played yesterday, it’s always hard to get that same feeling the following day,” Poulter said. ”It’s never going to be easy just to go out there and feel like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go do another 62.’ But I’m playing well. I feel aggressive.”

Joining them at 11-under 129 was Thomas, one week before he defends his title in the final major of the year.

Thomas has been working on his putting, felt it getting close after the first round and then saw plenty fall in his round of 64. He hasn’t won since the Honda Classic five months ago, though he has never seemed to be too far off his game.

This was a good result to see, especially coming into a busy time of the year with the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup playoffs. His only mistake was one that didn’t cost him too badly. He was in the rough off the tee at the par-5 16th, pitched out and still had some 284 yards to reach the green, with a pond in front. The distance wasn’t an issue, but Thomas said later that odds were against him making a birdie, and the safer route would have been to lay up and rely on his wedge.

He hit 3-wood too far right and into the water.

”We were lucky to get up-and-down for 6, but that was a stupid decision,” Thomas.

The rest of his game, especially with the putter, was sharp. Three of his six birdies were from about 15 feet or longer, and he hit short irons close for easy birdies.

”It was definitely one of the better putting days I’ve had in a while,” Thomas said. ”I just hit a lot of quality putts. That’s what’s most important. I’ve had days where I’ve missed more but putted better. … To me, that’s not as frustrating as what I was doing yesterday – just hitting bad putts.”

Dustin Johnson, coming off a victory at the Canadian Open for his third PGA Tour title this season, had a much tougher round with the putter, and the first round wasn’t all that great. Johnson shot a 71 and was 11 back.



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