Graeme McDowell was cautiously optimistic after showing signs of a welcome return to form with an opening 66 in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron on Thursday.
McDowell has managed just one top-10 finish on either side of the Atlantic all season, a share of ninth place in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on February 1.
So the former US Open champion was not about to get too carried away despite carding five birdies and one bogey to finish four under par alongside Jim Furyk, one shot behind New Zealand’s Danny Lee at Firestone Country Club.
“When you are playing against some of the best fields in the world and you can post two or three rounds in the 60s and feel you are back competing at the top level, the confidence should come back to me quickly,” McDowell, who started the Scottish Open with consecutive 66s last month but faded to 31st, told Sky Sports 4.
TOne 66 is not going to do it, I’m going to need a few. I know what to do when I do get on the leaderboards and it’s just a case of continuing to do what I am doing. I am just excited to post a good early round and get out tomorrow and get back at it.”McDowell surged into the lead with birdies on the second, third, sixth and seventh in a front nine of 31, before picking up another shot on the 10th.
However, after dropping his first shot of the day on the 12th, the 36-year-old had to scramble for par on the next five holes before narrowly missing from 20 feet for birdie on the 18th.
Players Championship and Scottish Open winner Rickie Fowler carded a 67 that was matched by world number eight Justin Rose, who had been four under par after six holes.
“I saw the course was not yielding low scores and then I got out of the gates and felt like I could birdie every hole, but all in all I think 67 is a great start on this course and gets me into the tournament nicely,” Rose said.
Fellow Englishmen Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were a shot behind alongside Victor Dubuisson and Henrik Stenson, with Casey pleasantly surprised with his 68 after coming into the event on the back of a two-week holiday.
Casey has climbed back to 26th in the world rankings thanks to an excellent season on the PGA Tour, which has seen him lose out in two play-offs and record four other top-10 finishes.
“Even though I didn’t play the play-off like I wanted at the Travelers Championship, the final round was stellar and one of the best I have played in a long time,” the 38-year-old said on Sky Sports 4.
“I feel like I am trending in the right direction and have still got time to get a win before the season is out. I am not looking back on the missed opportunities, I am very much focusing forward.”
Sergio Garcia, who lost a three-shot lead in the final round to Rory McIlroy 12 months ago, shot 71 after battling back superbly from a quadruple-bogey on the 16th - his seventh hole of the day - where he found water with his approach, missed the green with his fifth shot and eventually three-putted.
Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth, who will replace McIlroy as world number one with a victory on Sunday, birdied the 18th to finish level par alongside playing partner and Open champion Zach Johnson.