Memorial Tournament
Memorial Tournament
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Smith & Verplank share first day lead

Chris Smith set the pace in the first group of the morning Thursday with a six-under 66 to share the first-round lead with Scott Verplank at the Memorial Tournament.

Jeff Sluman and Stuart Appleby are a shot back at five-under followed by a group of 11 players at four-under, including two-time defending champion Tiger Woods.

Woods' round got off to a rocky start as the top-ranked player splashed his seven-iron approach into the water at the third and took double-bogey. He dropped his second shot in the drink two holes later but saved par with a 10-foot putt.

The back nine was vintage Woods, as he roped his three-iron 20 feet from the pin at the par-five 11th and rolled home the eagle putt. Woods hit a pitching wedge inside of 20 feet at the next hole for birdie to get under par for this first time Thursday.

Woods was not done yet as he played a five-iron to four feet for his second at the par-five 15th and converted his second eagle of the back nine. He drained a 25-footer for birdie at 17 to get to four-under par.

"With two balls in the water in five holes you could easily pack it in and get frustrated. I don't play that way," said Woods, who can become the first player to win a PGA Tour event three years in a row since Tom Watson won the Byron Nelson Classic from 1978-80.

"It wasn't anything special. Just a lot of solid shots on the back nine,"

Smith started with a 10-foot birdie at the second hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club and followed with a 20-footer for birdie two holes later. He rounded out his front nine with a birdie at the par-three eighth after he played a seven-iron 20 feet left of the hole.

Smith flew out of the gate on the second nine. He birdied 10 when he wedged his approach to a foot and then made it back-to-back birdies with a two- putt at the par-five 11th. Smith hit another beautiful wedge shot at the 163-yard 12th to set up his third birdie in as many holes.

The lone blemish on Smith's scorecard came at 13 when he blew his birdie putt past the hole and missed the comeback. He made up for the bogey with a two-putt birdie from 25 feet at the 15th for his 66.

Smith has split time between the PGA Tour and the Tour this season. An Ohio State graduate, Smith holds this tournament in high regard.

"For me this is almost a major," said Smith, who owns the PGA Tour record with a 427-yard drive at the 1999 Honda Classic. "I was looking so forward to playing the tournament some day and to be able to do it this year is really neat. It's like teeing off in the U.S. Open."

Verplank played in the afternoon with greens playing a little tougher but still came out hot when he birdied the first with an eight-footer. He added a six-foot birdie at four and another at six.

His approach at seven landed three feet from the hole to set up his fourth birdie of the round. His only bogey came at the eighth when he missed an eight-foot par save.

Verplank birdied two around the turn, including a 10-footer at the 10th. He closed out his round with a six-iron approach at 17 that stopped 12 feet from the hole to set up a birdie.

"In the last year and a half, when I putt good, I play good," said Verplank, who lost a playoff to Robert Damron at the Byron Nelson Classic three weeks ago.

The bad news for Smith and Verplank is that in the 25 previous Memorials, no first-round leader has ever gone on to win the tournament.

Jay Haas, who owns the Memorial record for most rounds at par or better in tournament history with 52, joined Woods at four-under. Sergio Garcia, Mike Sposa, Jesper Parnevik, Duffy Waldorf, Toru Taniguchi, Grant Waite, Paul Azinger, Billy Mayfair and Dennis Paulson are also part of the logjam at minus-four.

Tournament host and course co-designer Jack Nicklaus scored three birdies to six bogeys for a three-over 75.

Greg Norman, just elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, struggled a 10- over 82 on Thursday.

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