McIlroy tied on top after fast start

Rory McIlroy was “really happy” with his first day at the Memorial Tournament, but Chris Riley was ecstatic.

Rory McIlroy was “really happy” with his first day at the Memorial Tournament, but Chris Riley was ecstatic.

The 37-year-old American journeyman made a mockery of his miserable record at Muirfield Village by shooting a sparkling 6-under 66 that set the early, first-round target and eventually gave him a share of the lead with the strong-finishing McIlory, who will be particularly encouraged to be hitting this kind of form just a fortnight ahead of this month’s US Open.

The 22-year-old Ulsterman was the only foreigner in the top 20 after the first day, thanks to a birdie burst on his back nine

“I was really happy with the way I played today,” said the Northern Ireland World No 6 who carded a total of seven birdies, three of them on his front nine where he also posted a lone bogey.

“I got off to a little bit of a scrappy start on my front nine, which was the back nine. I got it up and down a few times just to keep myself around at one or two under par and then found a few birdies on the way in, which was the bulk of my birdies.

“I’m happy with 66, it’s a great way to start the tournament.”

“This is one of my favourite weeks of the year and one of my favourite golf courses.

“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 and Quail Hollow, and I sort of feel as if I’m pretty comfortable on courses like that.

“I’m swinging well, I’m hitting it good, and I’m holing a few putts, so hopefully I can keep it going for the next three days.” The Northern Ireland young gun added.

Riley’s reaction was very different as would be expected of a man who missed the cut in his last three appearances at Muirfield Village and has been struggling with his form this season.

Riley’s 66 included eight birdies and two bogeys on the tree-lined layout that Jack (Nicklaus) built to upstage some of the biggest names in the game, and in the end, was good enough to hold the flying McIlroy

Riley, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the Reno-Tahoe Open way back in 2002, was an early starter and made the most of a calm, sun-splashed day in Dublin Ohio where Muirfield Village is situated.

“I really putted good,” Riley told the media after needing only 25 putts.

“It was just one of those days where everything was going in the hole, and it felt pretty good to see that.”

Riley admitted to being delighted just to be back in the field at Memorial after not having played in this elite Tournament since 2002.

“It was very unexpected,” said the American, who only qualified for the event in the final exemption category by finishing 90th on last year’s PGA Tour money list.

“I didn’t even think I had a chance of getting in here this year … so I was really excited. To be able to come back here and play like this is a pretty big deal,” added Riley, who had not broken par in his previous six rounds at Muirfield Village.

Chris DiMarco and Josh Teater are a shot behind McIlroy and Riley after posting 67s while the group of nine on 4-under included Rickie Fowler and Stewart Cink.

Englishman Luke Donald, the new World No 1 after his victory last week in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, had a slowish start, but at two-under in a large group that is tied for 22nd, he is a shot clear of defending champion Justin Rose and Ernie Els and not out of it just yet.

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The Top 10 Leaderboard

66 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Chris Riley
67 Chris DiMarco, Josh Teater
68 Steve Stricker, Scott Stallings, Stewart Cink, Matt Bettencourt, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Barnes, Bryce Molder, Rickie Fowler, Rocco Mediate