Danny Lee made seven birdies for a five-under 65 for a one-shot lead Thursday in his first time at the Bridgestone Invitational in six years.
Lee had a one-shot lead over Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk at Firestone Country Club at Akron, Ohio.
The major championship pairing of Jordan Spieth (Masters and U.S. Open) and Zach Johnson (British Open) produced two rounds of even-par 70. Some of that was rust from being off the last two weeks. Most of that was Firestone.
The South Course was firm on the fairways and greens, lush in the rough. Only 21 players in the 77-man field broke par. Phil Mickelson was not among them. He made only one birdie and shot 76.
Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose were at 67, while the group at 68 included Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
McDowell has been in such a rut that he has fallen out of the top 50 for the first time in five years and hasn't finished in the top 10 in America since playing this event a year ago.
The slump is mainly due to change at home. His first child was born last September, and McDowell has found it harder to leave home. His motivation waned, followed by his game and inevitably some confidence.
"I like this version of me today," McDowell said. "It's been a rough year, no doubt about it. Definitely been some time for reflection and some questions being asked of myself. It's how you answer the questions and how you come out the other side, really.
"I feel like I'll know what to do when I get back there, but it's all about the process of getting there now," he said. "So days like today will certainly help in that direction. I've got to keep doing it."
Spieth was playing for the first time since he missed the British Open playoff by one shot, ending his bid for the Grand Slam. He expected a little rust. What concerned him was a sloppy start that was missing some of his fire. Walking up the fourth fairway, he said he told his caddie, "I need to get a little bit inspired right now."
He made a bogey on the par-five second hole, the easiest at Firestone. His shot from the rough on No. 3 clipped some branches, and Spieth thought it might go in the water and lead to double bogey. It barely made the green and he got par.
"I'm staring at three over through three, trying to bounce back on a course that could host a major championship," Spieth said. "I played these first three holes and it didn't bother me. And that should normally bother me the way I played them."
He birdied the next hole, and finished with a birdie for the round of 70.
Rory McIlroy, who is not playing at Firestone because he injured his ankle while playing soccer in July, is in the field for the year's final major next week at Whistling Straits, and he will be listed in the tee times released Friday. That's common practice for the majors, and McIlroy does not have to decide whether he plays until his tee time at the start of the championship.