Charl Schwartzel is the leading South African after round one of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
Schwartzel is currently T22 after his level-par 70, despite two bogeys in his final three holes on Thursday and leads the four South Africans, who all struggled during the morning session in Akron.
The driver was misbehaving for the former Masters champion, as he hit only 28% of the fairways, but turned that number around with just over 70% of greens found in regulation.
Starting on the 10th, Schwartzel bogeyed his second hole, before making the turn in one under after back to back birdies at 7 and 8. He got to -2 courtesy of a birdie at the par 3 5th, but slipped down the leaderboard with two late errors.
Shaun Norris and Branden Grace are one shot further back, but had remarkably different rounds. Norris’ front nine had bits of brilliance and some disaster as he eagled the second and doubled the ninth with a bogey, and a birdie in between for good measure. He got his championship back on track with a birdie on the 10th before dropping two in a row mid-round at the 13 and 14.
Grace, on the other hand, did not make one birdie all day, and sits at +1 after a bogey on the 8th. He found just over 50% of both fairways and greens and will no doubt be out on the range later trying to find his groove.
Trailing behind on +4 was Louis Oosthuizen. After a birdie on the second, he made five drops, including two in a row at the third and fourth and again at the 16th and 17th.
Leading on -5 is big-hitting Thomas Pieters, who fired a bogey-free 65 to set the early pace. The Belgian has saved his best for the big events all season, with his two top fives thus far coming at the WGC-Mexico Championship and Masters Tournament, and he was at it again in Akron.
He made five birdies to get to five under to lead the way from Scotland’s Russell Knox, who is looking for a second World Golf Championships title this week.
World Number Four, Rory McIlroy, England’s Ross Fisher, Spaniard Jon Rahm, Open champion Jordan Spieth and fellow Americans Kevin Kisner and Bubba Watson were then at three under.
McIlroy holed from 25 feet on the 11th, but gave the shot back on the 13th before a beautiful approach brought a birdie on the 18th. Back-to-back birdies on the second and third after more excellent approach play moved him further up the leaderboard, before he needed a smart par save after a poor second on the fourth.
The 28-year-old – who has best friend Harry Diamond on the bag after parting company with JP Fitzgerald – then rolled a 13-footer up the hill on the sixth to sit just one off the lead before bogeying the last.
*Additional reporting from European Tour website
Photo: Greg Shamus/Getty Images