Tiger Woods shoots 66

Updated: August 1, 2013, 7:24 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio -- Shooting in the 60s at Firestone Country Club once seemed as simple as putting on his shoes for Tiger Woods, but results in recent years around one of his favorite courses suggest a first-round 66 should not be taken for granted.

Woods got off to a solid start Thursday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, finishing two strokes behind leader Webb Simpson after hitting 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

It was the kind of score that once appeared routine at a place where he has seven victories and three other top-10 finishes.

"I feel very good about what I'm doing with basically my whole swing," said Woods, who was tied for third, two behind Simpson and a stroke back of Open Championship runner-up Henrik Stenson. "I hit a lot of good shots. I had a really good feel for the distance today, and (caddie) Joey (LaCava) and I really read the wind right today. It was good."

Defending champion Keegan Bradley was also at 4 under.

Woods is coming off a tie for sixth at the Open Championship, where he finished five strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson, who started later Thursday and finished the first round at 2 over at the year's third WGC event.

Earlier this year, Woods captured his 17th WGC title at the Cadillac Championship at Doral. No other player has won more than three of these tournaments since the concept started in 1999.

The 66 was Woods' 30th in the 60s in 49 official rounds, but eight of his scores at 70 or worse occurred in the past three years -- since Woods last won here in 2009.

In 2010, Woods had one of the worst 72-hole events of his career, as he was in the midst of swing changes that saw him fail to match par in any round. Two years ago he was playing for the first time since injuries kept him out for four months.

Last year, after getting off to a slow start with rounds of 70 and 72, Woods finished 68-66 to tie for eighth.

"It's one of those things where you've still got to play well, but I still felt comfortable with what I was seeing out there (in 2010-11) even though I didn't play well," Woods said. "It's one of those it's hard to explain, but I just feel comfortable seeing the shots here. Still have to execute, obviously, and over the course of my career here, I've done all right at doing that."

The 66 was his best opening score at Firestone since shooting 66 in 2005, when the event was called the NEC Invitational. His victory that year was the first of four in a row in the tournament. His opening-round scoring average is 67.43.

Woods did it despite not birdieing either par-5 on the course. His tee shot on the par-5 16th -- he played the back nine first -- found a fairway bunker that only allowed him to advance his second shot about 80 yards. He also three-putted from 85 feet at the second hole.

But Woods missed just two fairways all day and employed his new Nike VRS Covert driver eight times, hitting the fairway on five occasions. Woods would call it six, as his drive at the par-4 ninth, his final hole, found the 10th fairway.

"It was a high, hammered snap hook," Woods said. "It was nice. It was beautiful. Right in the middle of the fairway."

And it didn't hurt him. Woods managed to get his second shot to the front of the green, and two-putted for par.

Woods played his first nine holes with two birdies and two bogeys, then made four birdies over his final nine holes as he hit every green in regulation. He took 30 putts, but hit all 18 he attempted from inside 8 feet, making nothing longer than 10 feet.

Trying to win for the fifth time this year on the PGA Tour, Woods, ranked No. 1 in the world, also has his sights set on next week's PGA Championship, the last major of 2013.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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