DUBLIN, Ohio — Just being at the Memorial was a reminder of how far Cameron Young has come in the last year. Being part of a six-way tie for the lead Thursday was another reminder of how well he is playing.
In his first start since challenging at the PGA Championship, Young finished with two birdies over his last three holes for a 5-under 67 on rain-softened Muirfield Village.
Even with slightly softer greens, the 67 was the highest score to lead after the first round of the Memorial since 2004. And it was the second straight week on the PGA Tour of a big logjam at the top — eight were tied after one round at Colonial.
Bryson DeChambeau, in his first tournament since the Masters because of surgery on his left hand, had a 76. Harris English made his first start since the Sony Open in January because of hip surgery. He opened with a 77.
A year ago, Young was coming off consecutive wins on the Korn Ferry Tour that moved him up some 300 spots in the world ranking to No. 170. Now he is at No. 30, with five top-three finishes in his rookie season, three times a runner-up.
The most recent was at Southern Hills, when Young was tied for the lead heading to the 14th tee in the final round of the PGA. His chances ended with a double bogey on the 16th.
And then he was right back at it at the Memorial, making a 15-foot eagle on the par-5 15th on his way to a 31 on his opening nine holes, overcoming a few bogeys on the front nine and capping off another solid day with a 30-foot birdie putt.
“I think we knew what was possible, but I think I’ve also gotten a lot better throughout this season,” Young said. “And having done well makes it a lot easier. If I was really fighting to keep my card for next year, I think it gets a lot harder. To have been around the lead and then finish high a few times, I think just that comfort level has gone up and I’ve been able to keep going.”
The greens were firm during practice and still rolled well, though players could take aim at flags because of enough rain and cloud cover. That took some adjusting. Muirfield Village was still tough enough that bogeys were easy to find.
List, who picked up his first win at Torrey Pines in January, had only one bogey in his 67. Smith was slowed by a few bogeys on the front nine after making the turn. Lee holed out from fairway on No. 9 for eagle, only to follow with back-to-back bogeys.
“I did not think 68 with eight birdies was in the cards when I came out Monday, Tuesday,” Zalatoris said.
He figured out the difference quickly, a wedge on the 13th hole that landed near the flag and spun back 15 feet. Earlier in the week, he saw shots like that bound over the green into trouble.
What helped in any conditions was his putting. Zalatoris and 11 consecutive one-putt greens, one of those for bogey, until the streak ended when he missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth.
Defending champion Patrick Cantlay didn’t find nearly as many birdies as everyone else from the morning wave, just two birdies against two bogeys for an even-par 72. Collin Morikawa, who lost to Cantlay in the playoff at the Memorial last year, had two birdies for a 71.
Jon Rahm, who had a 6-shot lead after 54 holes last year until having to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test, hit two balls in the water on the back nine and shot 72.
Young recalls meeting Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host, at Pebble Beach in 2019 for the U.S. Open when he qualified for his first major as an amateur. It was special for at least one of them.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t remember,” Young said. “He was walking at me and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Cameron.’ And he was very nice. Said hello and kind of moved on. But I was nobody. I just got out of college. So that’s really the only time I’ve been able to interact with him.”
Nicklaus is always by the 18th green Sunday to shake hands with the winner. That would be memorable.