McIlroy sparkles with Diamond on the bag, Pieters leads Bridgestone Invitational
Rory McIlroy made an encouraging start to his first tournament since splitting with his long-time caddie, but Thomas Pieters leads the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
McIlroy this week confirmed that his nine-year relationship with JP Fitzgerald had come to an end and turned to his best friend Harry Diamond to carry the bag at Firestone Country Club.
Diamond helped McIlroy sparkle in his opening round on Thursday, the four-time major champion signing for a three-under 67 to take a share of third place with Jordan Spieth in an event he won when he was last in the field three years ago.
The Northern Irishman, who will next week attempt to end a three-year wait for a major title with a third US PGA Championship triumph at Quail Hollow, made five birdies but two bogeys cost him a share of the lead.
McIlroy started on the 10th and made gains at 11 and 18, but dropped a shot at the 13th. Another three birdies after the turn put him in second, but a missed putt for par at the ninth dropped the 2014 champion back to three under.
Spieth also signed for a 67 in his first competitive round since winning The Open at Royal Birkdale.
The world number two showed his prowess with the putter by sinking back-to-back birdie putts at the fifth and sixth holes after also starting on the back nine, having also made gains in three of his first seven holes after getting under way on the back nine.
Pieters is out on his own with a one-shot advantage over Russell Knox courtesy of a bogey-free 65.
The Belgian took sole lead in style, draining a monster birdie putt on the ninth – his last hole of the day – to make the early running, with Knox right up there following a round which included an eagle-three at the second.
Jon Rahm, Ross Fisher, Bubba Watson and Kevin Kisner are level with McIlroy and Spieth, while Dustin Johnson struck a 439-yard drive – the longest on the PGA Tour for four years – before ending the day on two under.