Davis Love III, Stuart Appleby, Harris English, Nathan Green, Martin Flores and Glen Day all fired four-under rounds of 66 on Thursday to share the lead at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Eleven other golfers sit just a shot off the pace, headlined by Dustin Johnson. The defending tournament champion got off to a hot start in reaching five-under through eight holes, but slipped up with three bogeys in his last 10, and he's the most notable in the pack at minus-three.
It should be a constantly shuffling leaderboard at the difficult TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee over the next three days. As the PGA Tour points out on Twitter, there are plenty of pitfalls at this difficult venue:
Plus, as stellar as Appleby and Love have been in their respective careers, it's been years since either won on the PGA Tour. Meanwhile, Green has just one PGA win and Flores' best finish ever was a sixth-place effort at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.
Below is a look at the top contenders through the first round of action, and for a complete overview of the scores, visit PGA.com.
|T1 ||Martin Flores ||-4|
|T1||Nathan Green ||-4|
|T1||Harris English ||-4|
|T1||Davis Love III||-4|
|T7||Dustin Johnson ||-3|
|T7||Scott Stallings ||-3|
|T7||David Toms ||-3|
Note: All statistics and video are courtesy of PGATour.com.
The 49-year-old Love is close to transitioning to the Champions Tour, but clearly has something left in the tank to compete out here.
Though Love had an up-and-down day with seven birdies, three bogeys and a couple of other missed chances, he's confirming a strong recovery from back surgery that's kept him out for most of 2013.
The last time Appleby won was at the 2010 Greenbrier Classic, where he fired a final-round 59 to win by a stroke. That was also his last top 10 on the PGA Tour, but it seems Appleby finally has some of the old magic back.
Appleby hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and could have separated himself even more with a few more holed putts. Bann Lynch Golf, which encompasses Appleby's swing coach Steve Bann, have correctly predicted Appleby's strong showing thus far:
When Johnson won this tournament last year, he ranked third in the field in scrambling. PGATour.com's fantasy guru Rob Bolton pointed out that Green got up and down 11 of 11 times, while hitting just five fairways out of 14 and seven of 18 greens.
In order to win, it's obvious that Green is going to need better ball-striking moving forward. Nevertheless, it was impressive that Green ground out a far better score than he should have in hitting less than half of greens in regulation.
One of the most talented young players in the U.S. is English, but he has not put it all together to win on the big circuit. Perhaps this is the week he turns the corner and emerges as a truly budding star.
English used his power to his advantage on the par-five 16th, which got him an eagle and helped him reach four-under through his seventh hole of the day. The final birdie of his round came at the par-three fourth hole from just off the green:
David Toms is another older player who is in the hunt after a 67, and he's a two-time champion here, so don't count him out. Also not to be discounted is Scott Stallings, who has finished joint fourth in each of his last two starts and is also at three-under.
It truly is incredible just how many golfers currently occupy the top spot, but let's look at how two of the biggest names in this tournament fared.
Stagnant Day for Snedeker
At No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Brandt Snedeker is the highest-ranked player in the field. The Nashville native also graduated from Vanderbilt and undoubtedly has the gallery behind him.
Snedeker's characteristically hot putter, though, let him down somewhat during his even-par round of 70. It was a case of burning a ton of edges and slight misfortune, but Snedeker had to grind to get to level par.
Thankfully, the lead is only four strokes away, and he began to show signs of life down the stretch by birdieing Nos. 16 and 17, the latter of which was set up by this beautiful approach:
When he birdied two of his first five holes, though, it looked as if Snedeker would likely be near the top of the leaderboard by the end of the round. It didn't shake out that way, unfortunately.
A dropped shot at the closing hole can't have Snedeker feeling too good to cap things off, but given his ability to roll the rock and consequently get up and down from just about anywhere, his chances to vie for a victory are as strong as anyone's.
Lefty Recovers to Stay in Hunt
One shot further behind Snedeker is Phil Mickelson, who did well just to manage a 71. Beginning on the back nine, Mickelson birdied No. 10 but then gave four strokes back between Nos. 15 through 17.
When Phil the Thrill made the turn, he came out firing, carding three consecutive birdies, which commenced after this display at the par-four first hole:
Mickelson was last in action when he missed the cut at The Players Championship and has struggled to maintain a high level of play from week to week this season. However, engaging in a tough competition like this before the U.S. Open should only strengthen his form entering the year's second major.
It's hard to project how Mickelson will do. He is still within striking distance, but his focus will be fine-tuning his game before the big test at Merion.
Having said that, Mickelson is the most accomplished player in Memphis, and it wouldn't be a total shock to see him walk away with the trophy on Sunday.