Tiger Woods, who recorded his worst finish in a major championship last week when he tied for 39th at the PGA Championship, posted a 5-under 65 and is tied for third place with 2000 Match Play champion Darren Clarke.
'Overall I just kind of plotted my way around and made a couple birdies here and there,' said Woods, who won the last three times this event was held at Firestone. 'There was nothing spectacular about the day. I just kept myself out of trouble most of the day.'
For Curtis, who shocked the golf world with his British Open triumph a month ago at Royal St. George's, this week is about much more than golf. Until his 500-1 long shot win at the British Open, Curtis had scheduled this week off and he and fiance Candace Beatty scheduled Saturday for their wedding.
The wedding is still on for Saturday in the suburb of Stow, which is 30 minutes from Firestone, but if Curtis continues to occupy the top spot on the leaderboard, the nuptials may have to be moved back to accommodate his late tee time.
'I'm more nervous about the tee time for Saturday now,' said Curtis. 'Hopefully I'm playing late, but at the same time I'd like to be on time and be able to get everything going on schedule.'
Curtis broke into red figures quickly with an uphill 15-footer for birdie at No. 1. At the par-3 fifth, Curtis knocked a 5-iron to 25 feet and sank the putt for birdie, then closed his front nine with a three-foot birdie at the eighth.
Curtis flew out of the gate on the second nine Thursday with a four-foot birdie at 10 and a long birdie putt at 11 after he drove into the rough.
At the closing hole, Curtis played a 9-iron to a foot and tapped in for birdie in front of Candace and several members of the wedding party.
'I saw her on the 18th hole and she was smiling and cheering away,' said Curtis.' I think she's going to say, well, the rehearsal dinner might be pushed back a little bit, but I think she'll be happy no matter what.'
Garcia did most of his damage on the front nine Thursday. He missed the green with a 3-iron at the par-5 second but chipped in from 15 feet for eagle.
Around the turn, Garcia drained a 12-footer to kick off a run on birdies. He wedged his approaches to two feet at both eight and nine and at the 10th, Garcia hit a pitching-wedge less than a foot from the hole to polish off the birdie run.
'You know, those were nice,' said Garcia.
Garcia stumbled at No. 12 when he missed the green with his tee ball but joined Curtis in the lead at the last when he ran home a 16-footer for birdie.
Garcia will join Curtis in Friday's final pairing as the NEC Invitational has no cut and the players are re-paired for every round. Garcia, although not invited to Curtis' wedding, has some questions for the future groom.
'If he's doing well, Saturday night is going to be a big night,' said Garcia, who switched caddies with Retief Goosen for the week. 'Because a wedding, what do you do? Do you get drunk or you don't? A lot of decisions are going to be made that night.'
Woods, who failed to win a major this season for the first time since 1998, birdied the par-5 second and added another at the sixth when he sank a 15-footer.
Woods made an eight-footer for birdie at the 10th then birdied three holes in a row, starting at the 14th. He fell out of a tie for first when he missed the putting surface at 17 and could not convert a four-foot par save.
'There's no surprises about this golf course,' said Woods. 'That's one of the great things about coming here, is we don't get the chance to play golf courses of this type very often. Every hole is just well defined for you, just get up there and hit the shot.'
Davis Love III, Scott Verplank, 2001 PGA champion David Toms and Chris Riley share fifth place at 4-under-par 66. Goosen, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Jeff Sluman and Niclas Fasth are tied for ninth place at minus-3.
Phil Mickelson is part of a group in 14th at 2-under-par 68 while defending champion Craig Parry is a stroke behind Mickelson at minus-1.
Shaun Micheel, the surprising PGA winner last week, opened with a 1-over 71.
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