William McGirt tees off on the third hole during the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club, Thursday, June 30, 2016, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak
July 01, 2016

AKRON, Ohio (AP) William McGirt won his first PGA Tour event at the Memorial. Two hours up the road in Ohio and one month later, he had a three-shot lead after one round of the Bridgestone Invitational. It's a familiar theme, just a different character.

Winning the Memorial and this World Golf Championship in the same year has happened only four times, and McGirt took a strong guess at who did it.

''Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods?'' he said.

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

The only other player to sweep the Ohio events was Greg Norman in 1995, when the WGC at Firestone was the World Series of Golf. Either way, McGirt was correct in saying, ''That would be pretty good company.''

Here's a sign of how much the PGA Tour has grown. The year Norman swept Ohio, his victory at Firestone allowed him to pass Tom Kite and become the tour's career money leader at just under $9.5 million. That's the size of this year's purse. Woods now leads that list at over $110 million. So times have changed.

McGirt says his life hasn't altered that much since his first PGA Tour title except for congratulatory messages in text and email that he is still trying to return, and a little more money ($1.53 million for his win at Muirfield Village) in the bank.

Imagine how many more messages he would get if he can keep this up over the next three days.

MCGIRT DEBUT: McGirt fell in love with Firestone when he arrived on Sunday, playing nine holes and riding in a cart to see the back nine. It showed.

He was among eight players to make their World Golf Championship debut on Thursday, and he opened with a 6-under 64 for a three-shot lead over Jason Day, Jimmy Walker and Emiliano Grillo.

He made four of his six birdies from outside 18 feet, and he finished his round with a 45-foot putt for par.

''I fell in love with the place because length is not everything out here,'' McGirt said. ''I love it because you can't stand up there and just hit it as hard as you want, go find it and hack it on the green. It's an old, traditional style golf course, which I absolutely love. ... I don't know, maybe it's something with Ohio I like.''

SPIETH'S SURPRISE: Jordan Spieth walked off the 18th green with a 68 and the kind of smile that suggests he got away with one.

This was not one of those rounds that had 68 written all over it.

Spieth only had one birdie attempt on his first 10 holes (he missed it). He already was 2 over for the round when he holed a 20-foot par putt on the eighth, and then a 25-foot par putt on the ninth. The big celebration was hitting back-to-back greens in regulation for the first time on the 15th.

So what happened? He started hitting greens. And he always seems to be making putts. Spieth finished with four straight birdies.

''I'm really just searching for something that isn't far off, that's real simple,'' Spieth said. ''It really is only taking place on my scoring clubs, but that's where you need them. It's close. It's almost there. And when it clicks, we're definitely in business the way the short game is.''

DUSTIN'S RETURN: In his first tournament since he became a major champion, Dustin Johnson was introduced on the tee as ... being from the United States.

They keep it simple at the Bridgestone Invitational, and that was fine with Johnson.

His thrill came on the 11th hole after he made a simple up-and-down for par. That's when a radio reporter informed him that his alma mater, Coastal Carolina, had won the College World Series for its first national title.

The golf? Not bad. He hadn't practiced all week and played a U.S. kind of a round - 15 pars, two birdies, one bogey for a 69.

''I didn't expect a whole lot today,'' Johnson said. ''I always expect to play well, but this golf course is playing tough.''

THE FIELD: Already the smallest field at Firestone in 15 years, the field became even smaller after one round when three players pulled out.

Daniel Berger hit one tee shot and withdrew with a sore shoulder. He made $50,500 in unofficial money, meaning it won't count on the tour's money list but counts quite nicely in the bank. Brooks Koepka withdrew after 13 holes with an ankle injury.

Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III withdrew with a torn labrum in his left hip, and he told Golfweek magazine he would have surgery on Wednesday to fix it. His year is over. Love told the magazine he would be on crutches for a month, but would have plenty of time to think about the Ryder Cup.

As for Firestone, the field is down to 58 players on Friday, all of them chasing a first prize of $1.62 million. That's just $35,000 less than what Norman made in all of 1995 when he won four times.

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