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Harrington takes two-shot lead at Firestone

AKRON, Ohio - Padraig Harrington never allowed himself to get down during the worst of times, whether he was missing five straight cuts or finishing toward the bottom of the leaderboard.

He didn't act much differently Thursday after his best round of the year.

Harrington finally saw some results after eight months of tinkering with his swing, making a pivotal par save early that sent him on his way to a 6-under 64 and a two-shot lead in the Bridgestone Invitational.

A boost of confidence? Not really.

'Has no relevance in the overall scheme of things,' Harrington said. 'It's just one round of golf. That's all it is. It doesn't change the last six months. It won't change the next six months. I wouldn't put too much significance into it, because what if I went out there and shot 76? Would I let it affect tomorrow? I think I would not put much emphasis on the fact that I shot 64. I'm comfortable with it.'

What pleased him were the two late birdies - a 25-foot putt on the seventh hole, and one from about the same range just short of the green at No. 8 - that made a good round even better.

It also put him atop the leaderboard for the first time all year, two shots clear of Scott Verplank, Tim Clark and Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand. The group at 67 included Steve Stricker and former Masters champion Zach Johnson.

Verplank played with Harrington, and he was well aware of the stories that documented Harrington's incessant swing changes.

'I know he's struggled a little bit, and he's probably gotten a little too much criticism for working on his game,' Verplank said. 'But you know what? He's the only one that knows what he needs to do. If today is any indication, then he's doing something right.'

Tiger Woods did enough right to open with a 68, the 11th straight time he has broken par in the opening round at Firestone. The world's No. 1 player is going for his seventh victory on this tree-lined course, and he was only four shots behind.

A week ago in the Buick Open, he was tied for 95th after a 1-under 71 in the first round and wound up winning by three shots.

'We were 1-under par, and I think I was in 15th or 17th spot - a little different than last week at 1-under par,' Woods said. 'You don't have to go super low here, just kind of plod your way along, make a few birdies here and there. And if you get on a little stretch like I did - make two in a row - all of a sudden you're in eighth place. That's what this golf course allows you to do.'

Phil Mickelson opened with an even-par 70, along with defending champion Vijay Singh.

Lefty played for the first time since the U.S. Open and had a double bogey on his second hole. He settled into his game on the back nine, however, picking up three birdies to salvage a decent start.

For all his birdies, it was a par that got Harrington going.

He watched a marginal shot take a wicked bounce to the left of the 13th green, his fourth hole of the round, leaving him a tough chip with not much green between him and the flag. He hit it to 5 feet and made the putt.

Those were the pars he wasn't saving all year, and it seemed to free him up for the rest of the day. He surged into a share of the lead with a 12-foot birdie on No. 1 and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second, then picked up bonus birdies from about 25 feet on the seventh and eighth holes, the latter from just short of the green.

Not since his 66-66 weekend at Oakland Hills last year at the PGA has he made the most out of a round, and those last two birdies certainly brightened his mood.

'I walked off the golf course feeling like I got a couple more shots,' Harrington said. 'And I feel good about the fact that I got one or two more. If I shot 66, I would have said, 'Well, that's about right.' Sixty-four is a little bonus.'

In such tame conditions, 40 players were at par or better.

Woods has never opened with worse than a 68 since he first came to Firestone in 1997, and while he wasn't particularly crisp, he came through with birdies on the 12th and 13th holes to alleviate any stress in his start.

'I hit it good on the front nine in stretches,' Woods said. 'Starting out, I hit a couple of bad shots there and in the middle part of the round I got it back. A little scratchy coming in, so it was kind of in spurts today.'