Furyk Fires 63 at Bridgestone Invitational

Jim Furyk got off to a rousing start in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The 42-year-old shot a 7-under 63 to take a two-stroke leader after 18 holes of the $8.5 million event, which began Thursday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Starting on the 10th hole, the 16-time Tour winner opened with two straight birdies, followed by a bogey and three straight pars. But Furyk then birded the final three holes to make the turn in 4-under 31. On his home half, Furyk eagled the par-5 second hole (his 11th) and had two birdies and bogey for a 3-under 32.

"I just did a good job of keeping the ball in front of me," Furyk explained about his successful round. "I hit a lot of fairways today. Stats probably don't show, I hit a lot of shortcuts today, probably at least three or four, four or five maybe, so probably don't look like I hit a lot of fairways. I gave myself a lot of good opportunities, good angles into pins, hit some crisp, good iron shots, hit some close where I had three or four very short birdie putts, and it was nice to see some putts go in today and knocked in some birdie putts." (See below for his full post-round interview.)

He leads England's Lee Slattery by two shots, while six players - Bubba Watson, Ben Crane, Luke Donald, Rafael Cabrera Bellow, Simon Dyson and John Senden - posted 66s.

Slattery, ranked 230th in the latest World Golf Ranking and who gained entry into the WGC event thanks to his win in last year's Madrid Masters, posted six birdies - including four straight starting his inward half on the first through fourth holes, is a former pro shop assistant who had to endure eight trips to the European Tour's Q-School.

"It's been a long transition for me," Slattery told reporters of his circuitous career so far. "I've never been a quick improver. Some guys come out on Tour and take to it quickly. I've been a steady improver over the years. I'm 33 years old, so that's not too bad. But certainly having that win last year and playing a lot steadier, I'm starting to make the progress which I always expected to at some stage.

"I'll be honest, I've been playing well quite a while, just putting the four rounds together has been a bit of a problem recently," he added. "A lot of changes with the golf swing and working on numerous other things, as well. We all try and improve, and I've been swinging the club well for a while, and I'm just waiting for a week where it all clicks into place."

Watson said later there were no excuses for a player to not put up a low number on a sunny, virtually windless day in Akron. "The course is in great shape," said the 2012 Masters champion. "First off, the greens are perfect. They're running real fast. Today was ideal. No wind. Sunshine. Ball was really traveling far today because of the humidity. There's scoring conditions out there right now. I hit my driver somewhat decent, so I had the ability to hit short irons in there and score."

Paired with Phil Mickelson, Donald concurred with Watson's assessment of the opening round at Firestone. "The course is in great shape," noted the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Like Furyk and Slattery, Donald also started on the 10th tee and carded seven birdies against three bogeys. "Course was in great shape. You know, it's always that way. Phil and I were actually talking about that, that the greens are so pure, the fairways are pure, the tees are purer than most of the greens we played growing up as kids. It's always in great shape, this place.

"I got off to a great start. I was 3 under through three, gave a few bogeys back with a few poor drives. That's the only thing really I need to work on after today's media session. But I had the pace and the line on the greens really well. I made a bunch of putts today, and that was obviously another key to a solid round."

Four strokes behind the leader are Retief Goosen, Carl Pettersson, Bill Haas, K.T. Kim, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Geoff Ogilvy.

After going out in even-par 35, Garcia got rolling on the home half, carding four birdies over Nos. 11 through 17. But a bogey on the 18th gave him a 67. "You get that horrible feeling in your mouth on the last," said the 32-year-old Spaniard. "After hitting a great drive, which is probably the hardest thing to do on that hole, then you hit 9 iron in and unfortunately bogey.

"But other than that, I felt like I played nicely. I felt like I hit a good amount of good shots. I could have putted better, there's no doubt. There were some good opportunities. But shooting 67 on this course is not a bad thing."

Bradley equated Firestone's slick but true putting surfaces with those at Augusta National. "They're as good a greens as I've ever played in my life," said the reigning PGA champion, who will defend his title next week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C. "This is very comparable to Augusta, speeds and trueness. They're so good. I can't remember a time I've played better greens."

Among those hooting 68s were Zach Johnson - a two-time winner on Tour this year, the fourth-ranked player in the world, Lee Westwood and No. 14 Steve Stricker, along with former major winners David Toms and Germany's Martin Kaymer.

Defending champion Adam Scott opened with a 1-over 71. Participating in his first tournament since the Open Championship at Royal Lytham two weeks ago - where he lost to Ernie Els by a stroke, the Aussie began play on the 10th. He birdied the 11th (his second hole) and 17th (eighth), but in between was a double-bogey on the par-4 14th (his fifth). Scott could only muster a bogey and eight pars the rest of the way.

"I think I played well but certainly my putting was a bit spotty," he said. "I kind of switched off there for a second on the 14th green. I played fine but just didn't really have the pace of the greens at all. I went from charging everything to leaving things short."

Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner at Firestone, was 3-under par before teeing off on the 13th hole. From there, he bogeyed three of the final six holes for an even-par 70, a score matched by two U.S. Open champions from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, among others.

Woods, who needed 33 putts Thursday, obviously had problems on Firestone's putting surfaces. "I hit it good today. Unfortunately once I got to the greens, probably I think I averaged about four putts per hole, so it was a great day on the greens," he noted sarcastically.

He also revealed his plans for Friday's second round. "Well, just keep going. I was 3 under par. I mean, that's not that bad. At the time I was three back of the lead and hadn't made a thing. I thought that was a good sign. Unfortunately finished awful, and here we are."

Scott Piercy, who won last week's Canadian Open, is tied for 25th after opening with a 69.

Mickelson, who missed the cut in the Open Championship and has been in a recent funk, posted a birdie on his front nine for a 34, but then stumbled at the third hole (his 12th) with a double-bogey. He also bogeyed the next hole, before a birdie on his second-to-last hole.

Among the players getting off to rocky starts were Hunter Mahan and Els, who each shot 3-over 73s.

For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/leaderboards/current/r476/index.html.

After signing his scorecard, Furyk met with reporters and discussed his day. Here's what the Pennsylvanian had to say.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Jim Furyk to the interview room. A nice 63 to open things up. It's your best performance here at Firestone and quite a good score, I think your best since 2009. Maybe just talk about what was going right for you out there today.

JIM FURYK: You know, I just did a good job of keeping the ball in front of me. I hit a lot of fairways today. Stats probably don't show, I hit a lot of shortcuts today, probably at least three or four, four or five maybe, so probably don't look like I hit a lot of fairways. I gave myself a lot of good opportunities, good angles into pins, hit some crisp, good iron shots, hit some close where I had three or four very short birdie putts, and it was nice to see some putts go in today and knocked in some birdie putts.

Had a good start with hitting it pretty close on 10 and 11 making birdies, and I three putted 12 and drove the ball just in the left rough on 13, and I made about a 10 footer on 13 and a really good up and down for par, and I think that was kind of a key to the round. Actually start out with two birdies, you don't want to turn around and bogey the next two. To make that for par and go on to play pretty good the rest of the day, I think that was a good boost on 13.

Q. Did the course record ever enter your mind?

JIM FURYK: I don't know what it is, so no. Just trying to play the best I can. I've always liked playing here. I love the golf course. I know everyone has been saying there's been a drought here and the golf course was browning out a couple weeks ago, and I was surprised when I got here yesterday, the golf course was pretty soft. The fairways were starting to bounce, but the greens were really soft yesterday. Then it kind of switched overnight. It got a lot firmer today than it was yesterday, and we're seeing the ball travel a lot off the tee today and the greens are starting to have a bounce to them. I love seeing the firm, fast golf courses. It helps me out a little bit.

Q. What was up with the ninth hole, the rules guy?

JIM FURYK: I had some grass clippings down there behind my ball, and I went to brush some of them away, and after doing so, my ball turned about a quarter turn back towards the tee box. I know in the past if you touched a loose impediment and your ball moves, it's a penalty. They've since switched that rule. The rules official said now it's whether or not you feel you deemed to move the ball, and I didn't think moving those grass clippings had anything to do with it. It was just kind of dried, burned up grass. I didn't think that had much to do with the ball moving.

Q. I know you said it was important to get home and get a breather. Given what the rest of the season looks like, what did that do for you physically and mentally?

JIM FURYK: I think it was more mentally. I feel pretty good physically as far as I got through the travel going to the British and the Canadian, and that can take its toll on you a little bit, but I felt like I got over and back, felt pretty good about my health at RBC. For one reason or another I felt like from a physical standpoint, mechanical standpoint in my game, I felt pretty good about my ball striking, I felt like my short game was decent, I felt like I was rolling the ball decent with the putter, but every day I'd kind of add up my score, and the British Open was always even, 1 over, 2 over, even, didn't get much out of it. Same thing at Canada, went there and shot two 70s and felt like I played a lot better than that. I think more than anything getting home was - I didn't know what to do.

My family was back at home, so I got in an airplane as quick as I could Saturday morning, went home for about three days, and it felt good to kind of sit on the back porch and relax a little bit, spend some time with the kids and Tab, and now they're up here with me. I think more than anything I needed a little time to clear my head, think about what was going wrong. It wasn't anything that was going wrong, why I wasn't playing better. I just felt like I needed to come in here and quit concentrating on trying to be so mechanically sound and just go play some golf and try to score and get the ball in the hole a little bit. It worked today. I did a lot better job of scoring. It's been a while since I made seven birdies and an eagle in a round, so it was a lot of fun.

Q. How much are you thinking about the Ryder Cup?

JIM FURYK: I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind and it hadn't crossed my mind. I know exactly where I stand. I'm 14th in points. And I've played on the last seven teams. Eventually in my career I'm going to miss playing on those teams, and I'm hoping it's not this year. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind, but I'm also wise enough to know that it's there in the back parts of my mind right now, and I know the only way to take care of business is to really focus on golf and the next shot and the next round and kind of forget about it and just try to play as well as I can and let those things work themselves out.

Q. When you say it's on your mind, is that during the course of a round or before or after?

JIM FURYK: No. If I were sitting out there on the golf course trying to hit shots worried about the Ryder Cup team, it wouldn't be possible to play well. I've kept an eye on it. I know where I stand, and I love - the opportunity to represent your country and to play in the Ryder Cup is - like I said, I've been able to do it seven times, and I don't know how many times that'll be, but it's such a wonderful experience and the camaraderie and the pressure that you get to play under, it's something that I strive to do every other year. I want to make it on that team.

Again, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind, but I also know it's - when you're trying to win a golf tournament, if you're just focused on trying to win, it's not going to happen, you have to focus on trying to hit the ball in the fairway, trying to focus on trying to hit a good shot in the middle of the green, trying to knock a putt in and just not get ahead of yourself. Like I said, I'm wise enough to know what my situation is, wise enough to know where I stand, but the only thing I can do to help it is to play well, so I'm focused on playing well and nothing else.

Q. Have you been in the position before where you've had to play well the last two weeks to make it onto the team?

JIM FURYK: It was the year going into Flint, Flint and the PGA, where I was 11th in points and I was on the outside looking in and I played real well in Flint, tied for second, and hopped up to about eighth. And there's been a couple years where I've been maybe eighth or ninth, last year at the Presidents Cup 10th, I think, going into the last event, where I've been on the bubble. But I was always on the inside at that time.

Q. No.2 traditionally has been a pretty good scoring hole for you guys over the years. Today there was a lot of birdies and eagles. What is it about that hole today and in general that leads to a lot of good scores?

JIM FURYK: I would think that would be a tough pin to see a lot of eagles on, that left pin over the bunker is tough to get the ball close. I would think your pins - there's one kind of in the back center and the back right, I would think those would lead to more eagle opportunities. But it's a reachable hole, uphill, guys like - playing with Jason Day, and he's probably hitting a - I'm guessing he's hitting a 5 iron in there or something as long as he is. It's an opportunity.

I hit a pretty good drive there, and I was in between whether to hit a 2 iron or 3 wood up there on the green, and I knocked a 3 wood up and it took a pretty nice kick to the left and got up there about 20 feet from the pin. You know, par 5s usually amateurs dread par 5s because they have to hit three good shots, and usually golf professionals are licking their chops because they know they're going to have a shot to reach it in two or have a wedge in their hand, and it should be a good birdie opportunity. But 16 here, still you have to hit a really good drive and a good second shot before you set it up. And that third shot is no gimme, either, so it's one of the harder par 5s we play all year.

Q. How would you say you drove the ball today, distance-wise, compared to the rest of the season? Were you longer today?

JIM FURYK: One of - it was you, right? Said I hit seven drives over 300 yards today. I think those stats are probably a touch misleading. I think instead of looking at what my average was today, where did I fall in the field. Did I fall in the middle of the field, towards the tail end of the field?

Q. I didn't look at that one.

JIM FURYK: That would be more where I'd look. Usually I'm an average to below average. I never crack the top 150 in driving distance on Tour. If all of a sudden out of all the guys that played today, the holes we hit driver, if I was 30th in today's field I would say I was a lot longer than normal, but if I end up being - was there 80 guys in the field? 78? If I was 63rd today, I really wouldn't worry about it. (Laughter).

It was hot. The ball is going pretty far, and the ground is quite firm. We're getting a lot of bounce, and I hit a lot of fairways today, as I said. I got the advantage of that long roll out on a lot of holes where if you hit it in the rough, the ball takes a couple hops and dies and you lose that. Statistically it'll probably look pretty good. I don't know. I don't really consider myself short. If the ball is bouncing, I'll kind of sneak up there and get a few out there and surprise a couple people. If the ball is not bouncing, I don't fly it that far.

Q. There were a lot of red numbers, and many of the players came in here, the ones who have been here before, said it was the best they've ever seen the course. Almost everybody said the greens were perfect or near perfect. How much did that have to do with scoring today, yours and others, in your opinion?

JIM FURYK: Yeah, I think it matters. I think if - what allows us to score is if the greens are receptive, as you said, and they're putting well, guys will find a way to shoot good numbers. If those greens start to firm up out here, they start to brown out a little bit, get even - they're pretty quick, but if they get a touch quicker than they are right now, then that's not going to be the case so much with scoring. Really, it's going to be how receptive the greens are. The fairways are bouncing. It's tough to keep the ball in the fairways at times, especially on holes like eight and nine. It's very difficult as that ball chases out. You have to be very precise. But if the greens are receptive, guys will find a way to shoot a low number.

Q. Does this course fit your eye?

JIM FURYK: Yes. I like old, classic - older architecture is definitely what I enjoy playing, and it's more comfortable to my eye than kind of a newer age of architecture.

Q. I'm very familiar with the part of Pennsylvania that you come from. I don't know that this course is nearly hilly enough for those courses up there, but it is kind of similar, isn't it?

JIM FURYK: I grew up in a flat part. Eastern PA is relatively flat, or actually southeast PA. My family is there but I grew up more in Lancaster in the southeast. So my mom and dad lived there until I was about seven, but I played my golf in southeast PA, where you have the Poconos in the northeast and the mountain range in the center. Pittsburgh, they always say you need one leg shorter than the other to play golf there. Pretty flat where I was at.

MODERATOR: Jim, thanks so much. Good luck the rest of the week. Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.