(Reuters) - Tiger Woods ignited the galleries at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio on Friday with a five-under par 67 but still has a lot of work to do if he is to catch the leading pair of Joaquin Niemann and Kyle Stanley, who top the leaderboard on 11-under 133.
Chilean 19-year-old Niemann birdied three of his final five holes, including the last, for a four-under 68 while American Stanley had eight birdies in a 66, leaving them two strokes clear of South Korean An Byeong-hun (67).
Australian Jason Day shot his second consecutive four-under 68 to share fourth place on eight-under with Japanese first round co-leader Hideki Matsuyama (71) and Americans Wesley Bryan (68), J.B. Holmes (66) and Bryson DeChambeau (67).
But it was Woods that brought out the biggest roars at Muirfield Village Golf Club as he moved within six strokes of the lead.
The 42-year-old, returning to the PGA Tour this year after spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, rebounded from a disappointing 72 on Thursday, when he complained of a tight back, to pick up three shots on his first nine holes.
An eagle from 95 yards at the par-five 11th then moved the fist-pumping Woods to five-under.
A 90-minute weather day seemed to dull his momentum as the former world number one made pars on the next three holes but he snatched his fifth birdie at 15 before giving the shot back at the 17th to finish on a combined 139.
“I did not putt well today,” Woods told reporters. “It could have easily been a nice like 62 or 63 and I turned it into a 67...
“I missed a lot of short putts which is something I don’t normally do, which is just frustrating.”
Despite the frustration, Woods was optimistic about his weekend chances.
“If I hit the ball like this on the weekend then I have a great chance of winning this tournament,” said Woods, who has not won on the PGA Tour since 2013.
Stanley was also happy with the way he has been hitting the ball.
“I’ve been driving the ball well, which I think is the key to this golf course.” the American said.
Niemann, a former world number one amateur, had shared the first-round lead with Matsuyama and Mexico’s Abraham Ancerer and he kept the foot on the accelerator with seven birdies against three bogeys.
Henrik Stenson (66) and Justin Rose (66) were among five at 137 with Dustin Johnson (66), Bubba Watson (67) and Adam Scott (66) also in contention at 138.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Rory Carroll. Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford