Riley, who hasn't had a top-10 finish since he was criticized at the 2004 Ryder Cup for begging off an afternoon partners match, shared the first-round lead with Lucas Glover after a 6-under 66 Thursday. They have a 1-stroke lead on Billy Andrade.
Even better, Riley is three strokes up on childhood pal Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The world's two best, playing together in a rare pairing, had matching 3-under 69s.
'I looked over and I saw two people following me. They probably had 200,000 people following them,' Riley said. 'I'm striving to play in those groups. ... I'm hoping to get into those big groups come this weekend.'
Once one of the goofiest, most carefree guys on the tour, Riley hasn't had his normal spark since that disastrous Ryder Cup. He sure hasn't had the results that got him there.
His last top 10 was a tie for fourth at the 2004 PGA Championship, the finish that earned him his Ryder Cup spot. He had one top-25 finish last year and two this year, the best a tie for 17th at The Colonial.
Some suspect it has to do with that Ryder Cup roasting. Riley started off strong at Oakland Hills, making sure the Americans weren't shut out in the better-ball matches the first day. He then teamed with childhood pal Woods, who had been clearly uncomfortable in an earlier pairing with Mickelson, to win a better-ball match and deliver another badly needed point for the Americans.
But when captain Hal Sutton asked Riley to play an alternate-shot match with Woods, Riley said he was too tired. Sutton publicly criticized Riley, and he hasn't seemed the same since.
Riley, though, said it has more to do with having two children, not Sutton's tongue-lashing. One child was born the week before the Ryder Cup, and another since then.
'I don't like to make excuses, but golf is not my No. 1 priority anymore,' Riley said. 'Now I've got a family. It's just I look at it different.
'My experience in the Ryder Cup was by far the best experience I've had in golf,' he said. 'And what Hal Sutton said or what was said in the media, it didn't bother me at all. Me and Tiger had a pretty good chemistry out there, but I've never played alternate shot and I would have been willing to play.
'I had a baby the week before that and, as y'all know, with a baby, you don't get much sleep,' Riley said. 'So all I said was, `I'll go, but I'm a little tired.' That was pretty much it. I've got no regrets in anything that's gone on.'
And now people have a new -- and better -- reason to talk about him.
He holed a chip shot for a birdie on his first hole, the par-5 10th, and cruised from there. He had only one bogey the entire day, and made three birdies in his last five holes to catch Glover.
Now he's got his eye on guys like Mickelson and Woods.
'When I wake up in the morning and see that I beat Tiger and Phil, it's got to put a smile on your face a little bit,' Riley said. 'But I know there's a lot of golf left. Just to be there, though, on the first day, I can't ask for much more.'