July 16 (Reuters) - Brendan Steele was nearly flawless as he grabbed the early first-round clubhouse lead at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio on Thursday while a number of big names struggled in tough scoring conditions.
Steele, whose round was highlighted by an eagle hole-out from 111 yards at the par-five 11th, shot a four-under-par 68 at windy Muirfield Village Golf Club to sit one shot clear of Charles Howell III.
Tiger Woods, back in action on the PGA Tour for the first time in five months, was among the late starters and went out in a group with world number one Rory McIlroy and four-times major winner Brooks Koepka.
Steele, in search of his fourth PGA Tour victory, bogeyed the third hole but responded with two straight birdies from the par-five 5th and added an eagle and birdie on the back nine.
“Even when you hit good shots, you’re struggling to make pars with how quick the greens are, how firm they are, and it’s tough to even hold the fairways right now,” said Steele.
“You’ve got a lot of crosswinds out there, especially on the back nine, so that makes for a really tough challenge.”
Howell had a chance to join Steele atop the leaderboard but bogeyed the final hole.
Among those sitting two shots off the pace were defending champion Patrick Cantlay and three-times major winner Jordan Spieth, whose roller-coaster round included an eagle, double-bogey, three birdies and a bogey.
Former champion Bryson DeChambeau, one of the favourites coming into the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event, was one over after a round which included a monstrous 423-yard drive that led to a birdie at the par-four first hole.
Justin Thomas, fresh off a playoff loss at Muirfield Village last week, bogeyed three of his opening seven holes en route to a 74 while Dustin Johnson slumped to a dismal 80 in his first start since winning last month’s Travelers Championship. (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)
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