Memphis, TN – Jeff Maggert and John Merrick posted matching rounds of four-under 66 on Thursday to share the lead after the opening round of the St. Jude Classic.
Maggert, who has missed the cut in nine of his last 12 starts, won this tournament in 2006, but that was his first tour win since 1999.
Merrick's best finish this year is a share of 33rd at the Farmers Insurance Open.
J.J. Henry, who nearly won the Byron Nelson three weeks ago, carded a three- under 67. He was joined in third place at the TPC at Southwind by Seung-Yul Noh, Arjun Atwal and Jeff Overton.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington headline a large group of players tied for seventh at minus-two.
McIlroy has missed his last three cuts worldwide, and added this event to his schedule to get more game reps prior to his title defense next week at the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
"I felt like that was about the best round of golf I played in awhile. It could have been a lot better," McIlroy stated. "Off to a decent start, definitely. Lot of good signs out there."
Maggert has missed the cut in his last two starts and failed to qualify on Tuesday at the U.S. Open qualifier in Memphis. He struggled to a three-over 145 in the 36-hole qualifier, but bounced back with his first under par score since the third round of the Players Championship.
The 48-year-old started on the back nine and was hot from the start. He rolled in an eight-footer for birdie on No. 12 and came back with a 44-foot birdie effort on No. 14.
Maggert knocked in a three-footer for birdie on the 15th and made it three in a row as he converted an eight-foot birdie chance at 16.
Around the turn, Maggert jumped to six-under as he sank a seven-foot eagle putt on the par-five third. However, he missed the green at the fifth and eighth. Both times he failed to get up and down, and that dropped him to minus-four. Maggert parred the last to share the lead.
"I got off to a really good start. I knew the golf course was going to be a little bit easier the first couple hours this morning being first off, so I was able to take advantage of that and just played really solid on my first nine holes and the last nine I played well," Maggert stated.
"On the eighth hole, just an unusual circumstance in front of the green there, being so muddy, you know, and the ball just kind of plugged in the mud. I wasn't able to chip the ball or putt the ball very close to the hole and made bogey there. It was a little frustrating there."
Merrick, who is winless on the PGA Tour, birdied the first from nine feet out, then two-putted for birdie at three. He followed with a six-footer for birdie on the fourth to quickly move to minus-three.
The 30-year-old hit a poor drive on the seventh and that led to a bogey. Merrick parred the next four holes before sinking a seven-foot birdie try at the 12th.
Merrick made it two straight as he drained an 18-foot birdie chance on 13. He briefly took the lead thanks to a two-putt birdie on the par-five 16th, but a drive into the water at 18 led to a closing bogey.
"It was a nice day. Birdied the first hole, and I birdied the third and fourth holes. So it was nice to get off to a decent start," Merrick explained. "I had a loose shot there on 18, but you can't hit every shot perfect out there. So I was really happy with today."
Like Maggert, Merrick failed to make the U.S. Open at the Memphis qualifier. Merrick was minus-five for the 36 holes, but missed a 3-for-1 playoff by a single stroke.
McIlroy and Harrington were joined at minus-two by two-time major champion John Daly, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, Y.E. Yang, who beat Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship, and Lee Janzen, who won the last U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in 1998. He beat the late Payne Stewart there, but failed to qualify on Tuesday at the site that Maggert and Merrick also missed at.
NOTES: In addition to his win at this event, Maggert finished second in 1993...This is the 10th time in his career he has had a piece of the first- round lead...Merrick shared 11th place last year, which was his best finish in four previous starts at this event...Luke Guthrie (69) made his professional debut after turning pro on Tuesday...Defending champion Harrison Frazar is tied for last place at 10-over 80.