He started his first round in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational like a house on fire, but Branden Grace finished up with a level-par 70 for his troubles on Thursday.
Starting on the 10th hole of the Firestone Country Club South Course in Akron, Ohio, Grace birdied 11, 12 and 16, before a bogey at 17 slowed his progress – a stumble that was quickly rectified with a birdie at 18 ahead of the turn.
But a double-bogey seven on the second and a further dropped shot on his concluding hole, the ninth, saw him back at level-par for his efforts and in a share of 19th, behind leader Webb Simpson who carded a six-under-par 64 – a round which included two bogeys.
That the course is capable of derailing anyone is not in dispute: In tough years, the winning total at the tournament has been six-under and eight-under, but when it plays easy, it can give someone an easy ride as when Tiger Woods carded 21-under in 2000.
But it seldom plays exceptionally tough. Last year, Keegan Bradley won with a total of 13-under, and the previous year, Adam Scott was 17-under for his four-stroke triumph.
And it’s playing easy this year. The greens are very receptive, as reported on the PGA Tour’s website: “Ken Duke hit a 207-yard four-iron into the 15th green that landed four feet from the hole and then rolled two feet past the cup. When a long iron is hit downwind and has just six feet of release, the greens are soft. Recent rains have left Firestone Country Club’s South Course very vulnerable to low scores. The fairways are also damp, though, so players are not getting much roll on their drives and the course. But the greens are so receptive that even players in the afternoon were able to take aggressive lines to the hole.”
So Grace needs to eliminate the big numbers on his card – even if it was just that double bogey in his first round – in order to drag himself into the upper reaches of that leaderboard. Following the example of Henrik Stenson, who made eagle on the second where Grace made double-bogey, would be a good idea.
Joining Grace on level-par amongst the five-man South African challenge was Richard Sterne. Ernie Els was one-over, Jaco van Zyl three-over and Charl Schwartzel four-over.