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McGirt sets early pace at Firestone

Jun 30, 2016; Akron, OH, USA; William McGirt of the United States hits from the edge of the second green at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 30, 2016; Akron, OH, USA; William McGirt of the United States hits from the edge of the second green at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Four weeks after winning his first PGA Tour title, William McGirt continued to ride a red-hot putter as he surged into an early three-shot lead in Thursday's opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

The 37-year-old American stole the limelight from some of the game's biggest names competing in the elite World Golf Championships event, firing a flawless six-under-par 64 on a breezy, sun-splashed day at Firestone Country Club.

McGirt, who won the Memorial title earlier this month, sank two birdie putts from 30 feet, holed out from a bunker at the 15th and ended his round by draining a 46-footer for par from just off the 18th green.

Australian world number one Jason Day, bidding for a fourth PGA Tour victory this season, opened with a 67 to end the round level with Argentina's Emiliano Grillo and American Jimmy Walker.

"I felt like I did all right," Day told Golf Channel after mixing four birdies with a lone bogey. "For the most part, I hit a lot good quality shots, iron shots, into the greens and gave myself some opportunities out there.

"When I was kind of out of position, my short game saved me and I had some pretty nice up-and-downs to really keep the momentum going."

McGirt was delighted to go bogey-free while racking up six birdies in the opening round, including four in his first eight holes.

"I hit a lot of good, solid shots and fortunately the putter was working for me," said the journeyman from North Carolina. "The hole looked a lot bigger from 30-40 feet than it did from six or eight feet.

"I missed a couple of short ones on the front nine, but I had eight putts on the back nine with three hole-outs."

McGirt did well to salvage par at the last after finding the left rough off the tee and also with his second shot, which he could advance only 86 yards.

"I drove it well all day up until 18, that was the worst shot I hit all day," smiled McGirt. "It was just one of those rounds where everything was a perfect number, perfect club.

"I don't think I have ever had this much confidence in my putter for this long."

American world number two Jordan Spieth and newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson were among the late starters.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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