Golf: McDowell's improvement continues in Akron
Graeme McDowell said in Ireland last week he felt close to his best form and today in Akron he looked closer still, going to the turn in a three-under-par 32 when the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational began.
Out-scoring playing partner Lee Westwood by three over Firestone's back nine, last year's US Open champion was only two behind early front-runners Stewart Cink, Geoff Ogilvy and DA Points before running up a bogey six on the long second.
It was not such a good start for current US Open champion Rory McIlroy, though.
In his first event in America since his runaway eight-shot victory in Washington in June - and a day after revealing he is all set to join the PGA Tour again next season - McIlroy bogeyed two of his first four holes.
All this, of course, was seen as something of a prelude before the return to action of seven-time winner Tiger Woods, out with knee and Achilles tendon injuries since mid-May.
Paired with new Open champion Darren Clarke, he was among the later starters.
McDowell hit his approach to two feet on the 11th, then made an eight-footer on the next. He did bogey the 14th after driving into sand, but putts of 22 and eight feet again went in at the 17th and 18th.
Westwood also birdied the 11th, but three-putted the 13th and had to wait until the outward half for his next birdie.
After pitching to five feet on the first, however, he was on in two at the long next and by two-putting moved to two under - and alongside McDowell when the Ulsterman came unstuck there after finding more sand off the tee.
World number one Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson were on the same mark, Donald after birdies at the 10th and second, Mickelson after closing out the back nine with putts of 18 and eight feet.
McIlroy, disappointing in two events in Europe following his first major success, three-putted the 12th and then could not recover from driving into the rough at the next, but he did at least hole from 12 feet on the 17th to get back to one over.
Cink, winner in 2004, has not tasted victory since the 2009 Open at Turnberry - he memorably beat 59-year-old Tom Watson in a play-off, of course - but eagled the second, turned in 32 like McDowell and picked up further shots at the 12th and 13th.
Former US Open champion Ogilvy began with a bogey but then had six birdies in the next 11 holes, while Points, whose first PGA Tour win came at Pebble Beach in February, birdied five of the first seven holes, then had back-to-back bogeys, then matched Cink's last two birdies.
The trio led by a shot from South African Rory Sabbatini and Ogilvy's fellow Australian Jason Day.
There was an amazing six-shot swing between McDowell and McIlroy on the second and third holes.
McDowell followed his bogey with a double-bogey six after driving into rough this time and laying up short of the water, while McIlroy hit a brilliant 230-yard approach to within six feet of the flag to set up an eagle and then birdied the next.
He was up to joint 10th with Donald, but McDowell was all the way down to 30th on one over after dropping another shot on the fourth when he came up short in another bunker.