Brandt Snedeker, in the top 40 only once since the PGA Tour's Covid-19 shutdown, said the first spectators at a US tour event since March helped him seize the lead in Thursday's first round of the Houston Open.
The 39-year-old American fired a five-under par 65 for a two-stroke edge at Memorial Park Golf Course, a municipal layout hosting a PGA event for the first time since 1963.
"Very excited about how I played," Snedeker said. "Drove it great. Around this golf course you have to be in the fairway, otherwise it's going to be a long day. Did a great job of that. Made some putts. Birdied every par-5 out there.
"You need to take advantage of the scoring holes, which I did a great job of today."
A total of 2,000 spectators are being allowed each day with face masks and social distancing precautions in place.
It's the first PGA event on a US course with spectators since play resumed in June after a three-month layoff.
"That's a big reason why I played well today -- I love having fans out here," Snedeker said. "I kind of feed off their energy. It's great to hear some claps and people excited for good shots."
Australians Jason Day and Cameron Davis, Mexico's Carlos Ortiz and Americans Scottie Scheffler, Michael Thompson and Harold Varner shared second on 67.
"I putted a lot better today than I had in the past," Day said. "I think it's just a good step in the right direction."
Nine players remained on the course when darkness halted play. The best of them was Norway's Kristoffer Ventura at 1-under through 16 holes.
World number 84 Snedeker, whose only top-40 finish since February was a share of 17th last month at Jackson, Mississippi, seeks a 10th career US PGA title and first since 2018 at Greensboro, where he opened with a 59.
"Did a great job of kind of thinking my way around the golf course," said Snedeker. "I'm excited I got a low one in me, which is good. The lead means nothing right now. We have a lot of golf to go."
Snedeker holed a 15-footer from the fringe at the par-3 second and a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 third. He dropped his approach inside three feet and birdied the par-5 eighth and holed another three-footer to birdie the par-4 13th.
"I was putting good, which was a good feeling," Snedeker said. "I've been driving it well, so it just kind of depended how I hit my irons and kind of hung in there."
Snedeker missed a four-foot putt to bogey the par-4 14th but answered by sinking a 14-foot birdie putt at the par-3 15th and another from just inside nine feet at the par-5 16th.
"The 15th is going to be really tough by the end of the week," he said. "It's just a diabolical green."
World number one Dustin Johnson, in his first event since he contracted Covid-19 and missed two tournaments in October, stumbled to four bogeys in five holes on his way to an opening 72.
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, trying to find form after hip and knee injuries, also shot 72.
"I didn't hit it well but I was still able to keep it around par," Koepka said. "The way I hit it I could have been 5- or 6-over for sure."
Scotland's Martin Laird made a hole-in-one at the par-3 second from 142 yards with a 9-iron.