Sat, Aug 04, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Mahan, Casey, Sabbatini set pace as Woods lurks

BRIDGESTONE INVITATIONAL Tiger Woods is chasing his sixth victory in Akron, Ohio, where slick greens had several players watching as their putts slid by the hole


Chris DiMarco, right, hits to the 16th green at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament on Thursday.


Hunter Mahan overcame a sloppy double bogey with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch for a 3-under 67 on Thursday, giving him a share of the lead with Paul Casey and Rory Sabbatini at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Five-time champion Tiger Woods, going after his third straight title in this World Golf Championship, opened with a 68 -- including a 5-wood from 224m that squeezed between two trees and just over the back of the green for a simple birdie on the par-5 second.

"Very satisfied," said Woods, who has posted a score in the 60s in the first round all 10 times he has played the Firestone Country Club course.

Mahan was playing Firestone for the first time, but continued the momentum that has seen him finish in the top 10 in each of his last four events on the US tour including his first victory.

"I'm just playing golf," Mahan said. "It's just exciting to play this good, to feel like I'm finally reaching my potential and finally playing the way I can. Just going out there and letting go."

For most of the 83-man field, it was a matter of hanging on.

With the US PGA Championship, the final major of the year, next week, the Bridgestone was playing like a major of its own.

The course is in supreme condition with thick rough and greens that figure to be every bit as slick as the US PGA. More than one player watched a putt slide by the hole and keep rolling 2m away, and K.J. Choi hit one off the green at No. 12.

Only 13 players managed to break par.

It was the highest score to lead the first round at Firestone since it became a WGC event in 1999, and the scoring average of 72.18 was second only to the final round in 1999, when Woods failed to break par and still won the tournament.

Mark Calcavecchia, who also shot 68, played a practice round Tuesday and immediately sent a text message to Woods, who was practicing that day at Southern Hills. He told him the greens were as fast as Augusta National.

"I've never seen them this fast," Calcavecchia said.

Mahan, however, hit a 5-wood into 6m for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second, hit a sand wedge to 0.6m on the third, a 7-iron to 3.7m on the fifth and closed out his birdie run with a 7-iron to 3m on No. 7 and a wedge to 1.2m on the eighth.

Joining the leaders was Sabbatini, who hasn't been heard from -- on the golf course, anyway -- since winning Colonial. Sabbatini went six holes without making a par, a streak that included three straight birdies.

Inkster back in contention

Juli Inkster moved back into contention yesterday for the only major she hasn't won, making an eagle and four birdies over the first 10 holes in the second round of the Women's British Open at the Old Course.

The US player, who has been on the LPGA Tour since 1978 and is chasing her eighth major, recovered from a 6-over 79 on Thursday by reaching the turn in 31 -- 5-under for the first nine.

Inkster reached the green at the 470m par-5 fifth in two for an eagle putt. She made birdies at the first, sixth, ninth and 10th holes to get back to even par overall.

Although she was still six strokes behind first-round leader Lorena Ochoa, who shot 67 on Thursday and was due out much later yesterday, Inkster had a chance to get back into contention. Strong winds were forecast for the afternoon starters.

Inskster squandered a chance to become the oldest winner of an LPGA Tour event last week when she led the Evian Masters in France by two after three rounds. She had three bogeys in the last five holes to finish in a tie for third behind winner Natalie Gulbis.

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