PIETERS LEADS WAY
Belgian star seizes early Bridgestone lead
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.