By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Considering he rated himself a 5 out of 10 health-wise, Retief Goosen's round of 67 Thursday in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational was pretty impressive.
Goosen, who made six birdies and dropped just two shots to par, has been battling a degenerating L3-L4 disk for the better part of the last year. As if that's not bad enough, "some of the bone is growing a bit funny," the South African said.
Physiotheraphy sessions help stem the tide, and he's been consulting a cadre of doctors in an attempt to avoid back surgery.
"At the moment we've just got to keep grinding away and play well," said Goosen, who is one shot off the early lead.
The two-time U.S. Open champ, who ranks 139th in the FedExCup, says he struggles to keep the muscles from firing down the lower back. Cortisone shots have helped keep the 43-year-old going. He's even had PRP injections like Fred Couples and Vijay Singh did earlier this year.
"At the moment it is a struggle to sleep properly and to get going in the mornings, to warm up," Goosen said. "And yeah, I'm losing a lot of distance out there on the golf course. I can't quite go at it as hard as I would like to."
Even so, Goosen, who says he normally can't hit more than 30 balls after a round before he's struggling to stand up straight, is coming off his best finish of the season at the RBC Canadian Open that included a third-round 63. In fact, that was his second tie for 10th in his last three starts, with the other coming at the U.S. Open.
Goosen has never won a World Golf Championships event, although he does have 12 top-10s, including a tie for third at Firestone two years ago. He says the greens this year are running at Augusta speeds, which has always been his preference, and he used 30 putts on Thursday.
"I like this golf course," Goosen said. "I don't know, for some reason I putt better on quicker greens, so I feel like I can make a better stroke when I just have to stroke it and not hit it. The greens are perfect here. If you hit it on the right line, it's good. But they're also very tricky. There's a lot of break on them, so it's hard to get the right lines, as well."