McGirt on pace for Ohio sweep

Early Bridgeston­e leader in June won Memorial

- Steve DiMeglio @Steve_DiMeglio USA TODAY Sports

William McGirt and Tiger Woods don’t have much in common on their golf résumés.

McGirt won his first PGA Tour title last month, Woods has won 79 Tour titles. McGirt has won $7.75 million in his career, Woods won $10.86 million in 2007 alone and has amassed $110 million since turning pro. McGirt has played in two majors, Woods has won 14.

But McGirt is in position to go where only Woods has gone before after his eye-opening, bogeyfree 6-under-par 64 Thursday on the South Course at Firestone Country Club in the opening round of the World Golf Championsh­ips-Bridgeston­e Invitation­al.

Only Woods has entered the winner’s circle in the same year at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, and the Bridgeston­e Invitation­al at Firestone. Woods pulled off the Ohio two-step in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2009.

McGirt won the Memorial in a playoff June 5.

“That would be pretty special company,” McGirt said of joining Woods, who has won 18 WGC events while McGirt is playing in his first.

McGirt is three clear following his 64 but has some good company chasing him, led by world No. 1 Jason Day, who was in a pack of three at 67. At 68 were four players, including world No. 2 Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. A large group at 69 included reigning U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson.

Spieth looked lost when he was 2 over after 14 holes. Then he turned putts for pars into putts for birdies and made four in a row. He ended up two to the good side of par despite hitting six fairways in regulation and seven greens in regulation. It helps to need only 21 putts and make 115 feet of putts.

“One of the happiest 2-unders I’ve ever shot, for sure,” Spieth said. “I wasn’t supposed to shoot 2-under today. And I kind of wish we kept on playing, even though I felt so poor most of the round.

“I’ve really been searching. This is kind of a phase I feel like everyone goes through. Not specifical­ly this, but everyone goes through a little phase … a down phase in ball-striking where you’re just trying to find something that frees you up to swing through the ball. … I just feel like it’s close, I just need something to click. When you’re making a lot of putts, that’s one way to really help, when you feel like the pressure is off.

“In all honesty, those par saves bode extremely well for my confidence in my swing.”

McGirt didn’t look lost until the final hole when he hooked his drive into the trees. But he saved par with a 42-foot putt. Rather, he looked right at home despite seeing the South Course for the first time Sunday.

“I fell in love with the place because length is not everything out here,” said McGirt, who has lost count of how many different mini-tours he played back in the day. “You have to drive it in the fairway. You have to drive it in the correct spots in the fairways to be able to attack pins. I love it because you can’t stand up there and just hit it as hard as you want, go find it and hack it on the green.

“I like it where you have to go out and hit golf shots. … I like it when you actually have to think your way around and play golf.”

One thing McGirt doesn’t have to think about anymore is his future inside the ropes. The Memorial win came with a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour.

“It’s taken a little bit of pressure off. The biggest thing is knowing I have a job for the next three years. You can go out and kind of free-wheel,” McGirt said. “The biggest thing I took away from Memorial is the confidence in the fact that I know that I can do it now. I’d been close several times and didn’t get the job done. … Now there’s no doubt in my mind anymore about what I’m doing. I feel like we’ve made some good changes in my golf swing to make it a bit more consistent. But the biggest difference in my golf game over the last three months is I’ve never had this much confidence in my putter for this long.”

 ?? GREGORY SHAMUS, GETTY IMAGES ?? William McGirt’s 64 in the opening round gives him a three-stroke lead heading into Friday.
GREGORY SHAMUS, GETTY IMAGES William McGirt’s 64 in the opening round gives him a three-stroke lead heading into Friday.

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