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Graeme McDowell rediscovers his magic touch with a sparkling 66 at Bridgestone Invitational

By Phil Casey

Graeme McDowell is enjoying life back at the top end of the leaderboard after a sparkling 66 in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron Ohio - a title currently held by the injured Rory McIlroy.

McDowell's fellow Ulsterman has not played competitively since picking up an injury in a kickabout with friends last month - ruling him out of defending his Open Championship title at St Andrews a fortnight ago.

But as McIlroy battles to be fit for another title defence - next week's USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits - McDowell hit form in the World Golf Championship at Firestone Country Club, firing a four under par 66 to put him right in the mix for the massive $1,570,000 top prize.

"I drove the ball really well - the fairways are pretty narrow," McDowell said.

"If you miss the fairway, with the greens being so firm, you are going to be in trouble.

"My putting was more solid. I have been working on my driving and putting."

McDowell set the pace, the former US Open champion enjoying a welcome return to form with four birdies in a front nine of 31 before picking up another shot on the 10th. Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose was just a shot behind after four birdies in the first six holes, with Open champion Zach Johnson two under after six and playing partner Jordan Spieth - who can replace McIlroy as world number one with a victory - on level par.

Sergio Garcia, who lost a three-shot lead in the final round to McIlroy 12 months ago, carded an opening 71 after battling back superbly from a quadruple-bogey on his seventh hole of the day.

Garcia equalled the course record with a stunning second round of 61 last year, making birdies on his last seven holes to complete the back nine in just 27 shots.

However, the Ryder Cup star needed nine shots just to complete one hole on Thursday, finding water with his approach to the 667-yard 16th, missing the green with his fifth shot and eventually three-putting.

To his credit Garcia bounced straight back with a birdie on the 17th and got back to level par with further gains on the second, fourth and sixth, before dropping a shot on the eighth.

McDowell has managed just one top-10 finish on either side of the Atlantic this season, a share of ninth place in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on February 1 but there are encouraging signs he's returning to form.

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