Paul Casey one shot off the lead at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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England's Paul Casey admitted he was pleasantly surprised to make an excellent start to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday after a distinct lack of preparation.

Casey carded four birdies and two bogeys at Firestone Country Club to record an opening 68, despite coming into the event on the back of a two-week holiday following the Open at St Andrews.

"I had no clue what was going on," Casey joked. "It was a genuine two weeks off and I had not touched a club so it was panic mode the last couple of days trying to get some practice in.


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"It's the firmest I have seen this golf course in years. Typically it has been very wet, easy to throw the ball and stick it on the fairways and greens and it's made this course much wider than it was today. I like it like this - it's a little bit like playing a major."

Casey has climbed back to 26th in the world rankings thanks to an excellent season on the PGA Tour, which has seen him lose out in two play-offs and record four other top-10 finishes.

"Although I have had opportunities to win, I don't feel disappointed with the way that I have played," the 38-year-old added on Sky Sports 4. "Even though I didn't play the play-off like I wanted at the Travelers Championship, the final round was stellar and one of the best I have played in a long time.

"I feel like I am trending in the right direction and have still got time to get a win before the season is out. I am not looking back on the missed opportunities, I am very much focusing forward."

At two under par Casey was one shot off the clubhouse lead held by Players Championship and Scottish Open winner Rickie Fowler.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell was setting the pace out on the course, 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 Rory 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 after dropping his first shot of the day on the 12th, the 36-year-old did well to scramble par on the next four holes to remain four under par, where he was joined by Greenbrier Classic winner Danny Lee of New Zealand.

Rose had bogeyed the eighth to drop back to three under alongside fellow former US Open champion Jim Furyk, while Spieth was one over after a bogey on the 10th.

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