Steve Lowery drives a golf ball farther than most pros and led all of them in birdies last year.
So why doesn't he win tournaments?Lowery took the first step toward answering that question Thursday by sandwiching two birdies around an eagle on the last five holes to pass Payne Stewart, Larry Mize and Wayne Westner for a 1-stroke lead after the first round of the Memorial Tournament.
A big hitter who is seventh in putting this year, Lowery said his focus is shifting from statistics to the bottom line.
"I think scoring average and money and tournament wins is where I am looking," he said after shooting a 5-under-par 67.
A year ago, Lowery couldn't play in the Memorial Tournament because it started two days after the birth of his second daughter. This year, he took advantage of a still wet course with lengthy drives and pinpoint putting.
A downpour Tuesday night softened Muirfield's greens and made them more accommodating. Warm, sunny weather is forecast for the rest of the week.
"The course playing longer definitely favors my game," Lowery said. "I hit my irons a long way and I'm pretty long with my driver, so I tend to play better when the course is playing long."
A winner of only one tournament - the 1994 International - in his 13 years on tour, Lowery made his move on the par-4 14th, hitting a wedge from the right rough to 8 feet and hitting the birdie putt.
At the par-5 15th, his 3-wood stopped 25 feet from the hole, and he rolled in that putt for an eagle that tied him for the top spot. His 15-foot birdie putt on the closing hole pushed him to the top.
After Stewart, Mize and Westner, all at 4-under 68, came Jim Furyk, Woody Austin and Allen Doyle. Furyk birdied the last two holes for his 69.
Stewart, frequently a contender but never a winner at the Memorial Tournament, had five birdies on the back nine to get his 68. Stewart never hit out of the rough.
He has four third-place finishes and a second at the Memorial.
"I like to play the golf course and I play the golf course well," Stewart said. "It's fun to come here and feel like you've got a chance to win the tournament. I'm very comfortable here."
Mize strung together four birdies on the front nine on the way to his 68.
"I don't remember this course playing longer than it did today," Mize said.
Westner, who dabbles in big-game preservation back in his native South Africa, birdied the final hole to match Mize and Stewart at 68.