MADISON, Miss. – The course was so friendly, six players were tied for the lead, 17 finished at 4 under or better, six had bogey-free rounds and nearly half the field was below par.
"I've never played in conditions like this," said Arjun Atwal, who shot a 6-under 66 Thursday for a share of the lead after the first round of the Viking Classic. "I've always played when it's softer. But it's playing perfect, it's firm. It's just the way it's supposed to be played."
Atwal, coming off a five-week layoff since his victory at the Wyndham Championship, showed no signs of rust with six birdies over the first eight holes. He is tied atop the leaderboard with Bill Lunde, Ken Duke, Brett Quigley, Brendon de Jonge and Bill Haas.
De Jonge was the only one of the leaders to start later in the day. He teed off at 11:40 a.m. and had six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 seventh to offset two bogeys.
"It got a little bit tricky out there with the breeze this afternoon, swirling around a little bit," De Jonge said. "The golf course is in such good shape that, if you give yourself some chances, you can definitely make some birdies."
Brett Quigley, 152nd on the money list, is one of the players working to lock up a PGA exemption for 2011. The $3.6 million tournament will pay the winner $648,000.
Quigley had six birdies over his last eight holes, matching his lowest score of the year.
Nathan Green, Jeff Quinney, Dean Wilson and Charlie Wi were one stroke back, and David Duval and Sean O'Hair were in a group of seven at 68.
Duval, who has 13 victories on the PGA Tour, has not won a tournament since the 2001 British Open.
"I feel like I'm playing well enough to win again," Duval said. "Just a matter of putting all those little pieces together that I failed to do so far."
Unlike last year, when the tournament was canceled because of heavy rain, the wind and warm, dry weather has left the greens firm and fast. More of the same is forecast over the next three days, which could make play difficult.
"The greens are going to get baked out, baked out in a good way," said Haas. "They'll become hard and fast and very difficult to hit, especially if you don't hit it in the fairway off of the tee."
Defending champion Will MacKenzie was five strokes back after a 71.