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|England's Ian Poulter had eight birdies without a bogey to hold a one-stroke lead over Americans Kyle Stanley and Rickie Fowler AFP/SAM GREENWOOD|
The English golfer, who won the Houston Open in April, had eight birdies without a bogey to hold a one-stroke lead over Americans Kyle Stanley and Rickie Fowler.
Eight-time Bridgestone winner Tiger Woods, Northern Ireland Star Rory McIlroy, former world number one Jason Day and US Open champion Brooks Koepka were among the 19 players within four strokes of Poulter on a talent-laden leaderboard.
"My whole game was great today," said Poulter, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation.
"Whenever you shoot eight-under par you've generally done a lot of good stuff.
"I did very well tee to green, proximity to the pin, I rolled a few nice putts in. As silly as it sounds, I would have liked to have nicked another couple. But any time you shoot eight-under par on this golf course it's a great round of golf."
Poulter admitted he found extra motivation from his lack of success in previous trips to Firestone Country Club in Akron.
In his last six appearances his best finish was a tie for 17th in 2015.
"I looked at my stats over the last 15 attempts at this place, and they're not very good," he said. "So today I was a bit more aggressive and it paid off."
After his lowest round ever on the PGA Tour, Poulter said a "good change in mindset" and "a good cleanup from behind the scenes" had contributed to a solid year that has seen him climb to 32nd in the world rankings.
"It's a Ryder Cup year," he said. "I want to play in it and I need to play some good golf."
He'll have to keep playing good golf to hold off a bevy of talented chasers.
Stanley set the early target with his 63, and he was joined at seven-under by a bogey-free Fowler.
Spain's Jon Rahm, South Korean Kim Si-woo and American Patrick Cantlay shared fourth on 64.
McIlroy headed a group of six on 65 that also included Day, India's Anirban Lahiri and American Justin Thomas -- who defends his PGA Championship title next week at the final major of the year.
WOODS FIGHTS TO 66
Woods, the 14-time major champion who is seeking his first victory since winning the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, had five birdies with one bogey at his final hole to lead a group on 66 that also included Koepka and Mickelson.
"I kind of fought out a score today, which is good," said Woods, who said solid putting helped make up for the fact that his ball-striking wasn't all it could have been.
In ideal scoring conditions, 45 of the 71-player field finished under par.
"We won't find the golf course on any easier day so you really needed to take advantage of it," said McIlroy, who thought he made the most of his chances.
"Any time you can get around this golf course with no bogeys it's a good day," he said. "I scrambled when I needed to. I felt like I took advantage of most of the chances I gave myself."