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 in Dublin, Ohio.
Right behind them was former Henry Clay and Morehead State star Josh Teater, who shot a 67 and was tied with Chris DiMarco.
This year is Teater's second on the Tour after he won just more than $1 million in 2010. The winner's purse at the Memorial would beat that, but he'll have to play more consistently than he has this season, missing cuts in nine of the 18 events he's played. His best 2011 finish was a tie for 16th at the Crown Plaza Invitational two weeks ago.
Teater was 3 under through first three holes Thursday after an eagle at No. 11 and a birdie on 12.
"I made about a 30-footer there for eagle and then about an 18-footer ... . I don't know how else you'd want to start," he said. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play before a bogey on No. 8 dropped him one shot behind.
McIlroy shot 32 on the front nine despite missing three birdie putts inside 8 feet.
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."
At a tournament known for its sloppy weather, the conditions have been spectacular, and it showed in the scoring on a well-manicured course.
Following DiMarco and Teater, there was a large group at 68, including 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, in 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 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 defending his title at Quail Hollow, he reached the quarterfinals of the World Match Play in Spain.
■ Teater was asked after the round about being mistaken for Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia.
"Numerous times with fans," he said. "I remember an instance at West Virginia last year, a lady came up to me with her daughter and was like, 'My daughter carried the standard bearer sign for you.' I didn't remember it. I played Bay Hill, and then I had a two- or three-minute conversation trying to tell her that I was from Kentucky — because the guy next to her had a Kentucky hat on — and even after that, she still didn't believe it."
Outsider leads in Wales
South African journeyman Keith Horne led the Wales Open after shooting a 7-under 64 in the opening round Thursday, with defending champion Graeme McDowell trailing by three strokes at Celtic Manor.
Horne made birdies on five of the last eight holes in his Wales Open debut, his 100th tournament on the European Tour since 2000.