Tiger Woods' struggles off the tee caught up with him quickly on Thursday as the cicadas made Muirfield Village their home. The top player in the game hit a bad drive at the first on his way to an early bogey.
Woods then chipped his third within a foot of the hole for a tap-in birdie at the fifth, but found trouble with a bogey at the sixth.
The three-time Memorial winner answered with a birdie at the seventh, but gave another shot back with a bogey at the 12th after his tee ball missed short in a bunker at the par-3 hole.
Woods had some good shots left in his opening round, however, and knocked his approach to five feet for a birdie at the 14th. He then two-putted for birdie at the par-5 15th to reach 1-under.
The 28-year-old dropped a shot at the 17th, but got up-and-down for a par at the last to finish in a group at even-par 72, that includes defending champion Kenny Perry.
'It's just a matter of going out there and being committed to your golf shots,' said Woods. 'Once I got dialed in I was fine.'
Curtis, who has yet to post a top-10 finish this season on the PGA Tour, played his first seven holes at even-par before running off three consecutive birdies from the par-3 eighth to move into contention.
'I hit a lot of close shots the first seven holes,' said Curtis. 'I was a little disappointed I didn't make any, but I just knew if I stayed positive and kept my head up and kept grinding away that I would make some.'
The Ohio native was left with a difficult shot from just off the putting surface at the 15th, but made a steady swing and watched as hit ball rolled 18 feet past the cup.
Curtis calmly drained the birdie try coming back and parred his way in to secure a share of first.
'Every player wants to be able to play where they grow up,' said Curtis. 'I came down here I think starting around six or seven years old to watch this golf tournament. It's always fun to come and play. That's your dream. When I was growing up this is where I wanted to play, thought it would be fun to play in this event, and now I can do that.'
Els, who coincidentally won his claret jug at Muirfield in Scotland, was in control on the front nine with a birdie at the par-4 third and an eagle at the par-5 seventh to reach 3 under around the turn.
The South African struggled on the 10th green en route to a bogey, but came right back with a birdie at the par-5 11th. At the par-4 13th, Els hit an 8-iron inside nine feet and ran home the birdie putt.
Els faltered with back-to-back bogeys starting at the par-4 14th, but was able to counter again with a birdie at the par-3 16th after his tee shot stopped within 12 feet of the hole.
Els then played his approach into a greenside bunker at the 17th, but dropped his third shot from the sand into the hole for another birdie.
'It was quite a ride there at the end,' said Els, whose best finish at this event was a tie for second in 2000. 'Where they're tucking the flags, you can really look silly if you miss it. You've got to maybe play a little bit more safe at some holes, and I think I'll remember that for tomorrow's round.'
Fred Couples, whose last victory before he titled last season in Houston came at this event in 1998, tallied a birdie at the second and added birdies at the 10th and 12th holes to jump to minus-3.
After a bogey at the 14th, Couples sank a long, breaking putt for an eagle at the par-5 15th. Couples then bogeyed the 17th to finish one shot back after a round of 69 along with Stephen Ames, Lee Janzen, Paul Azinger, Todd Hamilton, John Rollins, Zach Johnson and Arron Oberholser.
Davis Love III, Retief Goosen and Jay Haas were one shot further back in a logjam at 2-under-par 70.
Tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who has suggested that the time has come for him to leave the game, mixed two bogeys and a birdie over his first nine holes. He dropped a shot at the 10th, but recovered with a birdie at the 14th.
Nicklaus then bogeyed the last to complete a round of 74.
'Physically, I feel good. I'm upbeat, the golf course is great,' said Nicklaus. 'It's going to get a little bit faster as the week goes on. We've had some nice rounds, nobody has torn the golf course apart, pretty darn good first day.'
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