Camilo Villegas eagled the par-5 18th at PGA National on Thursday to grab a 1-stroke lead after the opening round of the Honda Classic.
Villegas, whose last PGA Tour win came at this event in 2010, added four birdies en route to a 6-under 64.
"It's a tough golf course," said Villegas. "And I like tough golf courses."
Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Graham DeLaet and Robert Streb are tied for second place at 5-under 65 after the first official day of the Tour's Florida swing.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are part of a large group tied for 61st at even par. Last year, McIlroy held off a furious charge by Woods to secure the win and the world No. 1 ranking. Both players are coming off first- round exits at the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship.
"It's hard to commit to the shot that you need to play every time," said McIlroy, who had two birdies and two bogeys during his up-and-down round. "If you know that you should play a fade and you're not comfortable with it, it's hard to do."
McIlroy, who was cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in his only other start this season, hit just seven fairways and made only one putt outside six feet on the day.
Woods, a winner at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, began on the 10th tee and picked up a pair of bogeys during his outward nine before pulling even with birdies on Nos. 3 and 7.
"I hit good putts," said Woods. "I was getting fooled on the grain; some of it was snagging, some I would blow right through the top side."
Dustin Johnson, who has struggled since winning the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and world No. 9 Lee Westwood are part of a large group of players knotted in sixth place at 4-under.
Rookie Ben Kohles is also 4-under after making a charge at the first-round lead. The 23-year-old was 5-under through 11 holes, but he closed with six pars and a bogey on the par-3 seventh to fall off the pace.
Villegas is playing this tournament on an exemption as a former champion after finishing outside the top 125 on the money list last season and losing his card.
The Columbian missed the cut in each of his last two starts (Farmers Insurance Open, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), but he enjoyed a return to form at PGA National on Thursday.
After opening with seven straight pars, Villegas birdied the par-4 eighth and tallied another par at No. 9 to make the turn at minus-1. He began his inward nine with a trio of pars before enjoying a scintillating finish.
The closing run began with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15, continued with another birdie at the 17th and culminated at the last, where the 31-year-old dropped a 3-wood within 12 feet and drilled the straightaway eagle putt to grab the outright lead.
"This game is great when you're playing good," Villegas said. "And when you're out here missing cut after cut, I don't care what people say, yes, we're blessed to have this job, but it's not that much fun."
Grace, a four-time winner on the European Tour last season, endured the water- heavy Bear Trap with precision, birdieing the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th en route to his 5-under.
NOTES: Villegas missed nine cuts in 25 starts last season ... Kohles finished tied for 10th at the Humana Challenge in January ... Last year, McIlroy shot four rounds in the 60s and finished the championship at 12-under 268. That was enough for a 2-shot victory over Woods and Tom Gillis ... The PGA Tour continues its Florida swing in Miami next week for the WGC - Cadillac Championship.