Retief Goosen is perhaps the golfing embodiment of stoicism, and his three-under-par 67 in the opening round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational showed that.
Goosen, who made six birdies and dropped just two shots, has been battling a back problem for most of the last year.
ÂItÂs an L3-L4 degenerating disk, and some of the bone is growing a little bit funny,Â he said. ÂSo at the moment it is a struggle to sleep properly and to get going in the mornings, to warm up. And yeah, IÂm losing a lot of distance out there on the golf course. I canÂt quite go at it as hard as I would like to.Â
Even so, Goosen, who says he normally canÂt hit more than 30 balls after a round before heÂs struggling to stand up straight, is coming off his best finish of the season at the RBC Canadian Open that included a third-round 63. That was his second tie for 10th in his last three starts, with the other coming at the US Open.
At Firestone Country Club on Thursday, he found himself four shots off the early pace set by Jim Furyk at seven-under, together with Louis Oosthuizen.
ÂThe course is about as good as IÂve seen it here,Â said Goosen. ÂThe greens are running like Augusta speeds. The fairways are quick, as well. ItÂs pretty much as good as IÂve seen it. The rough is up, too. So itÂs quite hard to hit some of these fairways, the slopes in the fairways to keep it out of the rough. Today was good, one double bogey and a bogey and six birdies.Â
Goosen has never won a WGC event, although he does have 12 top-10s, including a tie for third at Firestone two years ago.
Charl Schwartzel was the next best of the six South Africans in the field at one-under. Branden Grace was two-over, Ernie Els three-over and Oliver Bekker battled his way around in seven-over.
Furyk led by one from Lee Slattery, with a group of six players Â including Bubba Watson and Luke Donald Â on four-under in a share of third.
Tiger Woods carded an opening even-par, as did Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell., and the man whom Els beat to win the Open Championship last month, Adam Scott, carded a one-over.