McIlroy, Riley share lead at Memorial

Rory McIlroy only gets to play three regular PGA Tour events

this year. He showed Thursday why the Memorial Tournament was one

of them.

On a Muirfield Village course that already ranks among his

favorites, McIlroy had a birdie putt on his last eight holes and

converted half of them on his way to a 6-under 66 to join Chris

Riley in the lead after the first round.

McIlroy hit the ball so pure that he shot 32 on the front nine

despite missing three birdie putts inside 8 feet.

”A great way to start the tournament,” McIlroy said.

The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland narrowly made the cut at

Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship and wound up in a tie for

24th. Asked the difference between last week and this week, he

replied, ”It’s about 30 degrees warmer.”

A tournament known for its sloppy weather has been spectacular,

and it showed in the scoring on a well-manicured course.

Chris DiMarco and Josh Teater were at 67, followed by a large

group at 68 that included Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Stewart

Cink and Rickie Fowler, the runner-up at the Memorial last

year.

Fifty-one players in the 120-man field broke par.

Luke Donald, is his debut as the No. 1 player in the world

ranking, recovered from a slow start by making four straight

birdies toward the end of his round for a 70. He played with

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and four-time major champion Phil

Mickelson, who each had a 72. Mickelson did that without making a

single birdie on the par 5s.

Riley was in the first group to play in the morning and relied

heavily on his putter to take advantage of the smooth greens,

although scoring conditions were not much different in the

afternoon.

”The less I think, the better I play,” Riley said. ”And

today, I didn’t have time to think. The pace of play was so good

and I didn’t stand around and think about shots. I just played

golf.”

This is the last tournament for McIlroy before the U.S. Open, a

chance for the No. 6 player in the world to atone for his 80 in the

final round that cost him a chance to win the Masters. That

collapse hasn’t stayed with him long. He was third the next week in

Malaysia, and while he missed the cut while defending his title at

Quail Hollow, he reached the quarterfinals of the World Match Play

in Spain.

And now, the U.S. Open beckons – along with a chance to win on

another stronger course in America.

”This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, one of my

favorite courses,” McIlroy said. ”I feel as if it really does set

up well for me. I like these sort of golf courses, the likes of

here and Akron (Firestone) and Quail Hollow. And I’m swinging well,

I’m hitting it good and I’m holing a few putts. Hopefully, I can

keep it going for the next three days.”

McIlroy likes to play the game through the air, the brand of

golf most often seen in America.

But he doesn’t get out as often.

By giving up his PGA Tour membership, he is allowed to play only

10 tournaments. That includes the four majors and three World Golf

Championships, with The Players Championship not counting against

his number – although McIlroy chose not to play this year.

And that’s probably not going to change soon.

”Even if I did win, I still probably wouldn’t take my card

up,” McIlroy said. ”As a European and playing in some European

events over the summer, like the French Open and the Irish Open, we

have a very busy summer of golf. And I felt like after the PGA last

year at Whistling Straits, I wanted to take a couple of weeks off

just to refresh. You couldn’t really do it. You had a week off and

then straight to the (FedEx Cup) playoffs. It was a lot of golf

over a short period of time.”

There’s a lot of golf left in this tournament, as McIlroy knows

well. And there are plenty of players behind him.

Riley, Teater and DiMarco, who all played in the morning, are

all ranked out of the top 250 in the world. Fowler is off to a slow

start this year, but he looks right at home at the Memorial.

Stricker has never had a top 10 at Muirfield Village in 11 tries, a

strange statistic he would like to change. And then there’s

Johnson, who feels his game is about where it was last summer, when

he nearly won two majors.

Donald has nine consecutive top 10s and is off to a solid start.

For the 33-year-old from England, it felt slightly different from

other tournaments, just because of the ranking attached to his

name.

”It feels good,” Donald said. ”I’m excited to be there and

looking forward to the challenges. I heard a few ‘No. 1’ shouts and

stuff like that, so you feed off that.”

DIVOTS: Nick Watney, the No. 15 player in the world, had to

withdraw because of an illness. He was replaced by Kevin Stadler,

who didn’t bring his regular caddie with him fearing he might not

get in. Stadler turned to Rich Schlaack, who once caddied for Bob

Estes and Steve Flesch until retiring years ago. ”I’ll lose 20

pounds by the weekend,” Schlaack said. … The tournament is down

to 118 players because Derek Lamely withdrew after he was 10 over

through 12 holes, and Joost Luiten of the Netherlands was

disqualified. … Kenny Perry, a three-time winner at the Memorial,

was among four players who shots in the 80s.