Woods looks to stay hot at Bridgestone

8/7/2009 - Golf

AKRON, Ohio -- As Tiger Woods sized up his position from behind a tree on the 18th hole Thursday, he was unaware that he had never shot worse than 68 in eight previous opening rounds at Firestone Country Club.

"No idea," Woods said. "Thank god."

The game's No. 1 player managed to maneuver his shot over and around some tree limbs and safely onto the green to set up a two-putt par for a 2-under 68 in the opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

That was good for a tie for eighth, 4 shots behind tournament leader Padraig Harrington.

And it continued a stretch of unbelievable play at Firestone, where Woods has won six times in eight appearances and never finished worse than a tie for fourth.

"You don't have to go super low here, just kind of plod your way along, make a few birdies here and there, and if you get on a little stretch like I did, make two in a row, boom, all of a sudden you're in eighth place," Woods said. "That's what this golf course allows you to do. It plays very similar to a major championship. I think that's one of the reasons why guys love playing here."

Woods is coming off his 69th PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the Buick Open, where he didn't play particularly well but managed to grind out the win after starting the tournament with a 71 and in 95th place.

The first round Thursday was the 33rd round at Firestone for Woods and the 24th in which he has shot under par. He has just five scores over 70 in nine tournament appearances. And this week, he will go over $8 million in official earnings at this tournament -- which was played once at Sahalee in 2002.

This is the second of three straight weeks for Woods, who also will play next week's PGA Championship -- the year's fourth and final major -- at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

That is where Harrington will defend his title, and he has not won since that victory a year ago at Oakland Hills. In fact, he has had a miserable year, having missed five straight cuts before last month's British Open. He has not posted a top-10 finish since January in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour.

"It was nice to shoot a score that probably was even slightly ahead of how I played," said Harrington, who leads Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng, South Africa's Tim Clark and Scott Verplank by 2 strokes. "I haven't been doing that too often this year. There's obviously a long way to go in this particular tournament, but it is quite positive to shoot a decent score."

Phil Mickelson, who is playing for the first time since the U.S. Open after spending time with his family while his wife, Amy, endured cancer treatment, shot par 70 and is tied for 27th.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.