Bel­gian star seizes early Bridge­stone lead

New Straits Times - - Sport - LOS AN­GE­LES

BEL­GIAN Thomas Pi­eters sank a 31-foot birdie putt on his fi­nal hole to fire a five-un­der 65 and take a one-shot lead af­ter the first round of the WGC-Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional on Thurs­day.

The 25-year-old Pi­eters rolled in five birdies on the day in­clud­ing his long putt on the par-four, 494-yard No 9 as he leads Rus­sell Knox by one shot.

Reign­ing Bri­tish Open cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth and North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy, who split with his long-time cad­die this week, are part of a group of six that shot 67s and are two shots back in Akron, Ohio.

Kevin Kis­ner, Bubba Wat­son, Bri­tain’s Ross Fisher and Spain’s Jon Rahm also shot 67s. Dustin John­son, Adam Scott and Adam Had­win are among a half dozen golfers at 68.

Pi­eters is the high­est-ranked Bel­gian golfer ever at World No 34. He is play­ing on the PGA Tour as a Spe­cial Tem­po­rary Mem­ber this sea­son.

“I man­aged to find a lot of greens to­day. That was im­por­tant as well. It was kind of a stress-free round on my back nine” said Pi­eters, who hit four of 14 fair­ways.

Spi­eth is com­ing off wins at the Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship and the Bri­tish Open.

“I re­ally scram­bled nicely and made a cou­ple nice long putts in the mid­dle of the round,” said Spi­eth, who fin­ished with five birdies and two bo­geys. “When my pace starts to feel good and I start to get di­aled in, that is when I know I am hit­ting it good.”

McIl­roy is com­pet­ing in his first tour­na­ment since sack­ing his cad­die for the past nine years, J.P. Fitzger­ald.

McIl­roy, who has strug­gled this sea­son, is hop­ing the cad­die change pro­duces re­sults and so far the early re­turns are good. Harry Di­a­mond served as McIl­roy’s cad­die on Thurs­day.

“It was good. Lit­tle weird at the start,” said McIl­roy, who had five birdies and two bo­geys. “It’s been nine years since I had some­one dif­fer­ent on my bag.

“I’m tak­ing a lit­tle bit more re­spon­si­bil­ity on my­self and there were a cou­ple of times where I prob­a­bly should have hit an­other club, but that’s on me, not any­one else.

“I’d much rather be frus­trated at my own de­ci­sion than some­one else’s.”

Mean­while, Michelle Wie took ad­van­tage of mild early con­di­tions to storm into the lead at the Women's Bri­tish Open with a course record eight-un­der 64 at Kings­barns Golf Links on Thurs­day.

The Amer­i­can scorched the back nine with six more birdies to bet­ter the 65 set by China's Xiyu Lin in 2013.

The 27-year-old, who closed with three birdies in a row, leads South Korean Kim In-kyung by a shot go­ing into day two, with fel­low Amer­i­can Lindy Dun­can a stroke fur­ther be­hind in third place.

“That start got me a bit an­noyed for a while but it was fun out there," Honolulu-born Wie told re­porters. “Any time you shoot a 64 on a course like Kings­barns, you've got to be happy.”

Thomas Pi­eters is the high­est-ranked Bel­gian golfer ever at World No 34.

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