Walker leads Pieters by two at WGC Bridgestone

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Jimmy Walker, gearing up for his PGA Championship title defense, fired a five-under par 65 on Friday to take a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the World Golf Championships Bridgestone in Akron, Ohio.

Walker shook off a lengthy weather delay as thunderstorms disrupted action at Firestone Country Club.

He carded six birdies with just one bogey en route to a 36-hole total of seven-under 133.

Walker edged ahead of overnight leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium when he rolled in an eight footer for birdie at the 15th.

Pieters then fell further back with a bogey at the par-three 15th, where he was unable to get up and down from a bunker.

He had two birdies and two bogeys in an even par 70 for 135.

It was a further stroke back to Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama on 136.

McIlroy, playing his first tournament since sacking longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald as he tries to turn around a so-far disappointing season, chipped in for birdie at the 16th en route to a one-under 69 while Japan's Matsuyama and America's Johnson both shot 67.

Australian Jason Day turned in a four-under 66 to join a group of six players on 137 that also included British Open champion Jordan Spieth, who signed for a 70.

Multiple rain delays made it a long day for everyone in the elite World Golf Championships event.

Walker, who was diagnosed with debilitating Lyme Disease in April, admitted the day "did feel like a marathon" but added that for him it was "a great day".

"(I) played solid, hit it well, made some putts -- just solid, a solid day of golf."

Walker, who hasn't lifted a trophy since making his major breakthrough at last year's PGA Championship, said he wasn't yet thinking about his title defense at Quail Hollow next week.

"It's just important for me to have a good week," he said. "I haven't had too many this year, it's been kind of rough. But things have been trending, I feel like, and hopefully this is shades of things to come."