Jeff Maggert and John Merrick shot 4-under 66 on Thursday to share the first-round lead in the St. Jude Classic, leaving U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy two strokes back.
Maggert took advantage of teeing off in the first group with calm conditions for the first seven holes, and finished with four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. Merrick matched his best round of the year with six birdies and two bogeys, the last on No. 18 when his tee shot went into the water to drop him back into a tie for the lead.
“Had a loose shot there on 18, but you know ... can’t hit every shot perfect out there,” Merrick said. “So, I was really happy with today.”
S.Y. Noh, Arjun Atwal, Jeff Overton and J.J. Henry were a stroke back.
McIlroy, preparing for his U.S. Open title defense next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, followed at 68 in a group that included Padraig Harrington, Y.E. Yang and John Daly.
McIlroy, coming off three straight cuts worldwide, played alongside Harrington and Graeme McDowell in an all-Irish threesome. McIlroy and McDowell are from Northern Ireland, and Harrington from Ireland.
The company and extra work on his game had McIlroy pretty happy Thursday despite two bogeys.
“I felt like that was about the best round of golf I played in a while. It could have been a lot better. Middle of the fairway, 3-under par have a 9-iron into the green par 5,” McIlroy said of an approach shot that hit the water next to the green on No. 3 for his first bogey. “The scoring doesn’t look too good. Off to a decent start definitely, 2 under is a decent start. Definitely so. Lot of good signs out there.”
Golfers are used to playing through wind and muggy heat in Memphis. A front that kept the temperature a very comfortable 82 Thursday brought winds in from the north, and that created challenges most of the day when many expected good scoring conditions at the 7,239-yard TPC Southwind course.
“It’s gusting a bit, but it’s definitely from an unusual direction,” Harrington said.