Jordan Spieth was calm and content. Conversations with his golf ball were limited.
That's when he knew something was wrong.
Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open, along with two other PGA Tour titles this year, with a relentless intensity and animated instructions he gives his golf ball in flight. The Bridgestone Invitational was his first tournament since he missed the playoff at the British Open by one shot, ending his remarkable bid for a Grand Slam.
There was some rust, to be sure. But there was not much emotion.
His wedge to the opening hole was too strong, leaving him above the hole with a tough putt. He made a bogey on the par-5 second hole, the easiest at Firestone, with a poor sand wedge from a perfect distance. And on the next hole, from the left rough, his shot rattled through some branches and looked like it might go into the water. It barely reached the green, and he escaped with par.
Walking down the fourth fairway, he told caddie Michael Greller, "I need to get a little bit inspired right now."
"I played these first three holes, and it didn't bother me," Spieth said after a birdie on his final hole for an even-par 70, tied with British Open champion Zach Johnson and five shots behind Danny Lee at 65. "And that should normally bother me the way I played them. Very lucky break on 3. That saved me at least a shot."
He made birdie on the next hole and "I was able to settle in."
Spieth is on an amazing run. In his last four events over the last two months, he has won twice (U.S. Open and John Deere Classic), finished two shots behind at the Memorial and one shot behind at St. Andrews.
This is a World Golf Championship, though it also is somewhat of a rehearsal for the final major of the year next week at the PGA Championship.
Danny Lee hasn't been at Firestone since 2009, when he won the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour to qualify for this World Golf Championship. He got in this year by winning his first PGA Tour event at The Greenbrier Classic, and he fared much better. Lee got his mistakes out of the way early on the back nine, played flawless on the front and shot a 65 for a one-shot lead.
"Back then, I was just happy shooting somewhere high 70s," he said. "It was a very, very tough course for me back then, and it still is out there when your game's not on. But it just feels a little bit more comfortable out here this year."
Graeme McDowell is stuck in the worst slump of his PGA Tour career. It has been a full year since he had a top 10 in America. He is out of the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time in five years, and he is No. 159 in the FedEx Cup and in serious danger of missing the playoffs.
So yes, that 66 on Thursday came at a good time.
Jim Furyk also had a 66 that was far less imperative. Furyk can only hope this leads to another chance at a tournament he should have won twice by now. In 2001, he went seven playoff holes against Tiger Woods before Woods won with a birdie. Furyk missed three putts inside 12 feet during the playoff. And in 2012, Furyk led wire-to-wire and put his tee shot in the fairway on No. 18 in the final round. He made double bogey and lost by one.
GOLF GIVETH AND TAKETH AWAY
Troy Merritt broke the course record at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club last week with a 61. He followed with a 67 and won the Quicken Loans National for his first PGA Tour victory, which got him into his first World Golf Championship this week and his first major next week at the PGA Championship.
How did he respond? With an 82 to be in last place in the 77-man field.
His tweet summed it up nicely: "Took care of 2 firsts the past 2 weeks — got my first win and shot my first round in the 80s on Tour. Golf is a funny game."
THE ROUND THAT GOT AWAY
Sergio Garcia had the lead going into the final round a year ago at Firestone and lost to Rory McIlroy. He was six shots behind Danny Lee after one round, and only some good golf kept it that close. Even though he made six birdies, Garcia took a 9 on the par-5 16th hole. He only hit it in the water once. But after the drop, he hit into the rough, chipped to 20 feet and three-putted for a quadruple bogey. He was 3 under the rest of the way.