Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter flying high at Firestone
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 04/08/18 5:38pm
Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter will head into the weekend of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational tied for the lead after another day of good scoring in Ohio.
Overnight-leader Poulter added a solid 67 to his career-best 62 in the opening round to set the early target at 11 under, and he was soon joined by compatriot Fleetwood after he returned a bogey-free 63.
The English pair were joined at the top by world No 3 Justin Thomas, who birdied five of his last eight holes to card a 64, while Rory McIlroy is just three strokes adrift after a birdie-birdie finish salvaged a hard-fought 67.
Tiger Woods will have to come from five behind if he is to win his ninth title in Akron, and lift his first silverware since his 2013 victory at the same venue, after he posted a frustrating 68.
The hot and benign conditions at Firestone Country Club were again conducive to low scores, and Poulter made five birdies to take his tally for the first 36 holes to 13, although he did drop his first shots of the week after missing the greens at both par-threes on the back nine.
"It's always tough to follow a near-perfect round of golf," Poulter said afterwards. "Today I didn't drive it quite as well, and I didn't putt quite as good as I wanted to.
"But I'm playing well, I feel aggressive and I like the greens. The way they are, you can be super aggressive, and that's what I need to do. I need to keep reminding myself that if I play aggressive, it kind of brings out some of the good golf in me and I need to continue that."
Fleetwood came within a shot of matching Poulter's first-round effort after his high-quality seven-birdie round, and he was delighted to take full advantage of the easier, early conditions on day two.
"First thing out today we were going to get the greens as good as you get them," he said. "They were just rolling so pure, so this morning was a morning to score, for sure.
"And having no fives on the card is always something nice to look at. I got out of position a couple of times, but when I did, I kind of got away with it.
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"But overall I drove it well. My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots and I holed a few putts. You've got days like that where it's going well and you've just got to make the most of them."
Thomas made an impressive charge over the second half of a round that started with back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11, although he ran into trouble at the long 16th when, after a wayward tee shot left him with no option but to pitch back to the fairway, he dumped an ambitious third into the water and did well to limit the damage to a bogey-six.
But the young American, who defends his PGA Championship crown at Bellerive next week, bounced back with four birdies in five holes from the second and picked up one more at the eighth to make it a three-way tie at the top.
The leading trio are two clear of Kyle Stanley (68) and Jason Day, who outshone playing-partner Woods with a 66 which he capped with three birdies over the final four holes.
McIlroy is just one shot further back despite errors creeping into various parts of his game, the 2014 champion hitting only four fairways and again struggling to get his wedges close to the pins.
He holed three good birdie putts on the front nine while dropping his first shot of the week after another blocked drive into the lush rough at the sixth, and he made a big mistake at the 10th when he had only 94 yards to the pin from the centre of the fairway but overshot the green with his approach.
McIlroy made similar misjudgements as he settled for pars over the next six holes, but he revived his challenge when he holed out from a greenside bunker for a bonus birdie at 17, and his wedge control at the last was near-perfect as he set up a tap-in for a closing three.
Woods is among a group of six players on six under after a mixed-bag of a 68 in which he bounced back from a bogey at the first with three birdies in four holes, and he picked up another with a pure tee shot in close at the short 12th.
But the 42-year-old needed four shots just to find the green at the 14th and then parred in to remain five behind the leaders heading into the weekend, while Phil Mickelson will resume on five under along with English pair Tyrrell Hatton and Ross Fisher.