Tiger Woods showed signs of a positive recovery Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Not just from back surgery, but from making bogeys.
Woods bounced back with birdies all three times that he made mistakes, opening with a two-under-par 68 on a soft, gentle day for scoring at Firestone. It left him four shots behind Marc Leishman of Australia, and hopeful that this time he can build on a solid start.
Woods opened with a 69 at the British Open two weeks ago, only to plunge down the leaderboard the rest of the week at Royal Liverpool.
"I hit a lot of good shots," Woods said. "I dropped shots at three holes out there today (and) got it right back on the very next hole."
For so many players, the opening round of this World Golf Championship at Akron, Ohio, felt like either a warmup or an audition for bigger events to follow. Ryan Moore was among three players at 65, a good start for someone looking for one big week to get him on the Ryder Cup team.
Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose joined Moore one shot out of the lead. Two more Ryder Cup hopefuls — Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari of Italy — were among those another shot back.
British Open champion Rory McIlroy, who next week will chase his second consecutive major in the PGA Championship, was among the leaders until not paying attention to packed sand in a bunker that sent him to a double bogey late in his round. He still wound up with a 69.
Leishman has quietly gone about his work in reasonable form, with top 10s recently at Congressional and Royal Liverpool. He had the perfect formula for Firestone, a big golf course where good scores are available by keeping the ball in play.
"I drove the ball well. It makes this course a lot easier when you're on the fairway," Leishman said. "It's pretty tough when you're playing from the rough. Then, I hit my irons really well and was rolling the ball awesome. So it's a pretty good combination for a tough golf course like this, something I can hopefully keep going."
Phil Mickelson's biggest struggle was with his health. He didn't arrive in Ohio until Wednesday night because of strep throat, and he opened with a 71.
McIlroy appeared to pick up where he left off in England. He wasn't expecting a hangover from winning his third major and didn't experience one except for his mistake from the bunker on the eighth hole.
"There's still so much to play for," he said. "No. 1 spot is up for grabs. Trying to get myself as far up the FedEx Cup points as possible. I haven't won a World Golf Championship before. Got another major coming up next week. It hasn't been that hard for me to refocus and get back to work."
Johnson done for year
Dustin Johnson is taking a leave of absence from golf to seek help for "personal challenges," a swift end to his season that will keep him from playing the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup.
In a statement Thursday from Hambric Sports Management, the 30-year-old Johnson said his leave of absence was effective immediately. It did not indicate how long he would be out, though agent David Winkle told the PGA of America he would not be at the PGA Championship next week or the Ryder Cup at the end of September.
"I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced," Johnson said. "By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion."
He asked for privacy "as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement."
Johnson, who tied for fourth in the U.S. Open and tied for 12th in the British Open, was No. 5 in the Ryder Cup standings and virtually certain to earn one of nine automatic spots when qualifying ends next week at the PGA Championship.
As long as he stays in the top nine, he will be replaced by the next player in the standings.
"We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best," U.S. captain Tom Watson said. "As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team. That said, the United States is a team with an abundance of talent."
Johnson last year got engaged to Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of NHL great Wayne Gretzky.