The Goose flies high at Firestone, Tiger toils

Akron: South African Retief Goosen moved a step closer to his first PGA Tour victory of the year by grabbing a one-shot lead in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational second round on Friday.

While world number one and holder Tiger Woods again struggled with his driving, Goosen was in good form off the tee and with his putter as he fired a four-under-par 66 in rain-softened, overcast conditions at Firestone Country Club.

The smooth-swinging South African recorded six birdies and two bogeys for a seven-under total of 133, finishing one ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson (68) and Justin Leonard (66).

Mickelson, who could replace Woods as world number one after this week, recovered from a double-bogey at the 14th with two birdies in the last four holes to remain in contention.

"I`m happy with the round," the 41-year-old Goosen said after totalling 26 putts and missing only three fairways off the tee.

"I`ve not done so well around this course in the past, so it`s nice to play well for two rounds and see how I can do on the weekend."

First-round leader Bubba Watson of the U.S. carded a 71 to lie two strokes off the pace at five under, level with compatriot Bo Van Pelt (68) and Swede Peter Hanson (66).

Australian Adam Scott (70), Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (67) and Britain`s Paul Casey (68) were among a group of six bunched at four under.

Woods, champion here last year and seeking a record eighth victory at Firestone, hit only three of 14 fairways on the way to a 72 that left him a distant 13 shots off the pace.

The 14-times major winner, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since last year`s BMW Championship, left the course without speaking to reporters after he had signed his card.

Goosen, in an upbeat mood after flourishing on the tight, tree-lined layout, said his sole regret was a bogey five at the last where he followed a perfect drive with a poor approach.

"I just had an eight-iron to the green and pulled it, then hit a poor chip and a good putt that didn`t go in," the double U.S. Open winner added.

"Every part of your game needs to be good here, driving especially. You need to hit it on the fairway, otherwise you`re struggling. The difference is I`m putting pretty well and today I drove it a bit better."

Goosen has not won on the PGA Tour since last year`s Tampa Bay Championship but has produced good form this season with seven top-10s in 13 starts.

"I`ve been playing quite consistent... I`ve just not been winning," he said. "It`s that No. 1 that counts. This would be a great event to get my first win for the year."

Bureau Report

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