K.J. Choi, who tied for third last year, is alone in fourth at minus-four while reigning FedEx Cup champion Jim Furyk, 2008 champion Camilo Villegas and John Senden are tied for fifth at three-under 68.
Rose collected his only two PGA Tour wins last year and finished 15th in the FedEx Cup. But he has posted just four top-10s this season, including a share of sixth two weeks ago at The Barclays to mark his best finish since tying for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
"I started the tournament with the mindset I've got nothing to lose this week. That's my strategy. That's my attitude," said Rose. "Right now I'm not going to Atlanta. I've got everything to gain this week."
This is the third of four events in the PGA Tour playoffs and only the top 30 players on the points list will tee it up at East Lake next week for the Tour Championship.
Furyk (35th) and Villegas (47th) are among those who need a good finish to advance. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (27th), Jason Dufner (29th) and Kyle Stanley (30th) hold down three of the last four spots, but are in danger of not keeping those positions.
Of those three, Dufner had the best round and shares 25th place at even-par 71. However, he was projected to drop to 34th on the points list.
Rose, who is playing this event for the fifth time in the last seven years, started his round with a tap-in birdie on the par-four 10th and made it two in a row with a birdie at the 11th from just inside 13 feet.
At the 13th, Rose missed the green and was unable to get up and down for par, but he erased that mistake with a two-putt birdie on the par-five 15th.
The 31-year-old Rose moved to three-under with a birdie on the 17th and he poured in a 13-footer for birdie on No. 1 after making the turn.
Rose grabbed the lead with an 11-foot birdie effort on the third hole. He came right back with a 15-footer for birdie on No. 4, then padded his lead with a birdie on the seventh and a tap-in birdie on the ninth.
"Certainly my best round of the year by a long, long way, and it could have been in the top-five or top-10 rounds I've ever played. That was really, really good out there," said Rose, who missed the course and tournament 18- hole scoring record by a stroke.
Simpson flew out of the gate with four birdies in the first six holes from the 10th. He cruised to eight consecutive pars before making birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 to get to minus-six.
"Today, I had a little trouble getting my hips through the ball. So when that happens, the club kind of gets inside, and the heel gets to the ball first," explained Simpson of how he shanked his second shot on No. 18.
"I probably shank one every other day on the range because one of my focuses in my swing is that I try to put as much force as I can on my downswing trying to get my weight through the ball."
Wilson opened with five pars in a row before making eagle on No. 15 and following that with birdies on 16 and 18. He birdied the second to get to minus-five, but stumbled to a bogey on the fifth. Wilson closed with two birdies in the last three holes, including a 36-foot putt on No. 9.
Ogilvy, Garcia and Fowler all opened with two-under 69s, but have work to do if they want to move on to East Lake. They were joined in eighth place by Robert Allenby, Chad Campbell, Robert Karlsson, Jimmy Walker, Hunter Mahan, Johnson and Chez Reavie.
NOTES: Rose's best finish in any of the four events since the PGA Tour playoffs started in 2007 was a share of fifth place at this tournament in 2007...Rose has turned just one of his previous 11 first-round leads into victory...Defending champion Dustin Johnson struggled to a five-over 76 that included seven bogeys and an eagle.