Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore each fired rounds of seven-under 65 on Thursday to share the first-round lead of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Rickie Fowler, still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, headlined a group tied for fourth at six-under 66 at Quail Hollow. Monday qualifier Patrick Reed, John Senden, D.A. Points and Brian Davis matched Fowler one off the lead, although all five players teed it up in the morning wave.
This is the first time back on tour since the Masters for many of golf's superstars, including Tiger Woods, who had a front-row seat for Simpson's spectacular round.
Woods, the 2007 champion, was one-over at the turn, but birdies at 13 and 15 gave Woods a one-under 71, which put him six behind his playing partner.
"I'm still within reach," said Woods. "Obviously we've got a long way to go."
Rory McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champion, who turns 23 on Friday, earned his first PGA Tour victory here in 2010 and on Thursday, he carded a two-under 70.
Phil Mickelson is also playing for the first time since Augusta National, and, like Woods, had a one-under 71 in round one.
"I'll try and come out tomorrow and shoot something mid-60s and get into the weekend," said Mickelson.
Everyone is trying to catch an interesting trio of leaders.
Simpson, a member of host Quail Hollow Golf Club, who won twice last year, but has struggled so far in 2012. He has two top 10s this season, but the last came in early February.
On Thursday, Simpson holed shots from all over Quail Hollow.
His birdies at two and three came from close distance, but at the sixth, he poured in a 30-footer for birdie. At the 343-yard, par-four eighth, Simpson holed a pitch from 36 yards for an eagle to reach five-under par.
At the 11th, Simpson drained a 15-footer for birdie, but at the very next hole, he made the longest putt in his PGA Tour career, a 62-foot, seven-inch birdie.
Simpson converted a seven-foot birdie putt at the 15th to get sole possession of first at eight-under par. His approach at the 16th went over the green and Simpson failed to save par to fall into a share of first.
"It was kind of a whirlwind on the front and calmed down a little on the back," said Simpson.
Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, has been in a prolonged slump. His last top 10 on the PGA Tour came at this event last year.
"Considering I haven't had very much success this year, it just feels good to piece it together and keep the momentum going for a whole round," said Cink. "I wouldn't go so far as to say, 'I'm back,' and make some kind of statement like that, but it's still good to see something like this."
Cink tallied a pair of birdies on his opening nine, the back side at Quail Hollow. He birdied the first and fourth holes, then caught fire at the end of his round.
Cink tapped in a short birdie putt at the par-five seventh, then rolled in an 11-footer for birdie at eight and polished off his third consecutive birdie from 20 feet at No. 9.
Moore finished off his round exactly like Cink.
He recorded six birdies and two bogeys through his first 15 holes, then reached then birdied the par-five seventh, his 16th. Moore poured in a seven- foot birdie putt at the eighth and ran home a 16-footer for birdie at his last.
"Had a great finish," Moore said. "I turned a really solid round into a good round. I just want to carry that momentum into tomorrow."
Billy Mayfair, Brendon de Jonge and Brian Harman are knotted in ninth place at five-under 67.
NOTES: Moore posted his first sub-70 opening round in this, his 11th start...Defending champion Lucas Glover posted an even-par 72 on Thursday...Jonathan Byrd, who lost a playoff to Glover last year, shot a three-under 69...D.J. Trahan withdrew on Thursday.