Russell Henley had eight birdies in an eight-under 65 to grab a narrow lead over early pace-setter Bae Sang-Moon at the first round of the US PGA Tour Tournament of Champions.
Henley birdied five of the first seven holes on the par-73 Kapalua Plantation Course, and gained sole possession of the lead with a birdie at the last.
The birdie gave him a one-shot lead over Bae.
“Today was good,” said Henley, whose birdies included a 20-footer at the 12th.
“It’s not every day you’re going to hit the putts right where you want to and read them correctly, but I did today.”
Henley won The Honda Classic last season to earn his spot in the winners-only field.
The tournament is the first of 2015, as the 2014-15 campaign resumes after a December break.
Henley, 25, played the tournament last year after winning the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii. He failed to break 70 en route to a 27th-place finish but is feeling much more comfortable this time around.
“I feel good,” Henley said. “I like Bermuda grass. I’ve putted well on Bermuda grass — both of my wins have come on Bermuda grass.”
South Korea’s Bae also mastered the big, grainy greens at Kapalua.
“I think I was in a zone,” said Bae, who birdied six of the first eight holes but gave a shot back with a bogey at 11 before back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15.
Bae said the greens were hard to read but some help from his caddie did the trick.
“He’s really good,” said Bae, who won the first tournament of the 2014-15 campaign, the Frys.com Open back in October and finished tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner last season, carded a six-under 67 and shared third place with Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, Ben Martin and Robert Streb.
Defending champion Zach Johnson opened with a five-under par 68. He shared eighth place with world number 11 Matt Kuchar, Australian John Senden and Chris Kirk.
It was a further stroke back to a group of six on 69: Canadian Nick Taylor, Australians Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones, Kevin Streelman, J.B. Holmes, and Brendon Todd.
Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson headed a group of seven players on three-under 70 that also included Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Australian Jason Day.
Watson won the World Golf Championships HSBC Champions at Shanghai in November, a victory that helped boost him to fourth in the world.
He’s the highest-ranked player in this week’s $5.7 million tournament, which concludes on Monday.