Ben Curtis hasn't taken the claret jug on a world tour since winning the British Open, but he decided to bring it with him to the Memorial Tournament for a little motivation.

So far, it appears to be working.

Curtis feels so confident about his game that he took aim at the flag on the 18th hole and walked off with a birdie, giving him a 3-under-par 69 yesterday and a share of the lead with Justin Rose and Stephen Ames in Dublin, Ohio.

"Looking at that thing gives you goosebumps," Curtis said of the claret jug, which he won last year at Royal St. George's as the player ranked 396th in the world.

Seeing his name atop the leader board isn't bad, either.

Despite greens that were even faster and swirling winds that grew stronger, Curtis navigated Muirfield Village without a bogey for the second straight day to wind up at 7-under 137.

"Having no bogeys the last two days is a reflection of how I've been playing," he said.

Tiger Woods gave himself a chance for a fourth title at the Memorial. Despite a double bogey on the par-3 12th that killed his momentum, Woods shot 68 and was three shots off the lead.

"If you shoot a round in the sixties today, you've done some good work," Woods said. "I'm very pleased."

Jack Nicklaus showed some life, too. The 64-year-old tournament host was robbed of an ace on No. 12, but still managed a 1-over 73 and made the cut.

"That's a pretty decent round of golf for an old man," Nicklaus said.

Rose, 23, looked as if he would have the lead to himself until he chopped the 18th hole and took double bogey, ruining an otherwise brilliant round. He settled for a 67 to match the best score of the tournament and put him in the final group with Curtis today.

Rose had the 36-hole lead at the Masters, but then soared to an 81 in the third round. The young Englishman believes that will help him down the road, maybe even this week.

Ames, who took a double bogey on the 18th to cost him the lead Thursday, this time finished in style, hitting his approach to four feet for a birdie on the final hole and a 68.

The trio had a one-shot lead over Ernie Els (70), K.J. Choi (67) and Fred Couples, who finished with a round of 69.

Couples opened with three straight bogeys, then turned it around by chipping in for eagle and birdie on consecutive holes. He made three straight birdies on the back nine to take the lead, then gave it away with a three-putt from six feet on No. 17 for double bogey.

"However you get to 69 . . . I mean, I could have made four birdies and a bogey," Couples said. "I'm not so sure I'd be better off to do what I did, because I hit some real good shots. And that's what I've been looking for."

The craziest shot of the day belonged to Nicklaus.

His tee shot over the water on No. 12 was perfect all the way -- too perfect, in fact. It flew straight into the cup with such force that it ricocheted off the metal bottom, shot 20 feet into the air and settled on the fringe.

"I end up missing the green after holing it," said Nicklaus, who two-putted for par.

* LPGA: Tina Barrett had an eagle at No. 2 and a birdie on the final hole during her round of 6-under 66 at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Aurora, Ill. She has a one-shot lead over a bunched field heading into the weekend.

Barrett played a bogey-free round to lead five players grouped at 5 under: Nancy Scranton, Liselotte Neumann, Jessica Reese, Cristie Kerr and Catherine Cartwright.

There was one noticeable name absent atop the leader board: Annika Sorenstam.

The two-time defending champion, who opened with rounds of 62 and 63 the last two years and has never trailed after a round in the tournament, finished five strokes off the lead with a 1-under 71.

Barrett hasn't won on the tour since 1989, her rookie year.

"For whatever reason it never happened for me," she said. "I'd like to get that second one, that's for sure."

Fourteen players were within two shots of the lead after the first round, which was played under ideal conditions at Stonebridge Country Club.

* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Sammy Rachels birdied five of the last seven holes for an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Farmers Charity Classic in Ada Township, Mich.

Rachels didn't have a putt longer than 12 feet in the back-nine run and posted his best round of the season. He played just seven tournaments in 2003 after a motorcycle injury led to rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder last June.

Champions Tour rookie Sam Torrance was second after an opening 65 at the 7,080-yard Egypt Valley Country Club.

Tip your cap to 2003 British Open champ Ben Curtis. The Ohio native shares the lead after two rounds at the Memorial with Justin Rose and Stephen Ames.