Danny Lee, the Korean-born Australian who has finished in the top four of three of his last four tournaments, took a one-stroke lead at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Thursday.
Lee overcame two back-nine bogeys with a flurry of birdies, seven in all, to take the lead at the hotly-contested event that is the prelude to next week’s fourth and final Major of 2015.
Lee cushioned the blow on both of his bogeys – one on No. 12, the other on 15, by surrounding them with birdies. His bogey on 12 was sandwiched between three birdies, and he made up the stroke on 15 with a birdie on 16.
He leads England’s Graeme McDowell and the US’ Jim Furyk by one stroke. McDowell looked like he might run away with things as he birdied four of the first seven holes, but was even par on the back nine.
Furyk was tied for the lead until he bogeyed No. 18.
Last week’s PGA winner Rickie Fowler and fellow Top 10 player Justin rose are tied for fourth at 3-under. Despite the talent level in Akron, only 21 players are at least one stroke under par.
Like McDowell, Rose exploded out of the gate, sitting 4-under through six holes, but mustering 11 pars and one bogey the rest of the way.
Among other notables in the under-par crowd: Henrik Stenson (-2), Jason Day (-1), and Dustin Johnson (-1).
World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, who could become No. 1 with a victory here, is one of 14 players tied for 22nd at even par; a group that also includes his playing partner for the first two rounds, Open Champion Zach Johnson, along with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.
Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson was a disastrous 6-over, falling to pieces early with a triple-bogey 7 on No. 3, but not even he was in the same low realm as Troy Merritt, who came into the field fresh off his exciting win at the Quicken Loans National a week ago.
Perhaps as a result of a little too much celebration, Merritt is dead last in the field following a horrific 12-over 82. Merritt bogeyed six of his first seven holes and added a double-bogey 6 on No. 9 to hit the turn 8-over. He managed to string together six straight pars before a triple-bogey 8 on No. 16 and closed the round with another bogey.
According to Merritt’s Twitter feed, it was his first round in the 80s in his PGA career.