MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Davis Love III is busy still trying to play his way back into shape after back surgery in February. Playing with Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, he did a bit better than just keep up.
The 49-year-old Love shot 4-under-par 66 for his best round of the year Thursday and a share of the lead with five other players after the first round of the St. Jude Classic.
Stuart Appleby, former Georgia All-American Harris English, Nathan Green, Martin Flores and Glen Day share the top spot with Love, who lives in Sea Island, Ga.
“I still hit some bad shots,” Love said. “At the Players and Memorial, I felt like I was playing better than I was scoring. I think it’s rust. I’m excited to be back, and I’m anxious and I want to play better than I’m playing. You got to be a little bit more patient and polished. That’s going to take some rounds of golf to get back.”
Johnson, the defending champion, was 5-under through six holes, taking advantage of near perfect conditions at the TPC Southwind with a temperature in the low 80s and only a slight breeze early. But Johnson finished with 67 and was tied with 10 others including David Toms, a two-time winner here, and Shawn Stefani, who was tied for the lead before he hit into a fairway bunker and bogeyed No. 18.
Snedeker, currently No. 6 in the world, opened with a 70.
Boo Weekley, who won at Colonial, shot 68 and was tied with seven others. Phil Mickelson had 71.
Love took off in February for surgery to relieve numbness and weakness caused by spinal stenosis and bone spurs. He didn’t play at all in March or April, and this is his fourth tournament back on tour. He tied for 29th at Memorial last week, and tied for third here a year ago in what wound up being his best finish of 2012.
He credited his good start to being grouped with Johnson and Snedeker, who also like to play fast.
“I tried to keep up with Dustin and Brandt,” Love said.
Love made the turn at 2- under and birdied Nos. 10 and 11 to move into a five-way tie at 4-under. He bogeyed No. 12 and bogeyed the par-3 14th. But Love birdied two of his final three holes to finish with a piece of the lead.
Appleby had five birdies and a bogey for his best round this year.
The Australian has nine victories, but hasn’t won since The Greenbrier Classic in 2010, and his best this year was a tie for 35th at Hilton Head Island.
He said he was surprised the scores weren’t lower on a day where there wasn’t any wind.
North Augusta’s Matt NeSmith, who just completed his freshman year at South Carolina, shot 73.
NeSmith, the SEC’s co-freshman of the year, earned a sponsor exemption to the event when he was named the AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year in October.