POTOMAC, Md. (AP) _ Charles Howell III set a course record with a 10-under-par 61 _ including a 28 on his final nine holes at the TPC at Avenel _ and held a three-shot lead Thursday after the first round of the Booz Allen Classic.
On a perfect day with the wind calm and the greens soft and smooth, Howell carded the lowest opening-round score this year on the PGA Tour. It also was the second-lowest overall round of the season.
Howell went birdie-eagle-eagle on the three par-5s and made six putts of 15 feet or longer.
``It was one of those funny days where everything tends to work your way,'' said Howell, who called the round the best of his career. ``The best you can do is get out of the way and let it continue to happen.
``Some people call it a 'zone' or 'flow' or whatever. ... You get that feeling that you can do nothing wrong.''
Scores were low all day. Seventy-six players were under par _ exactly 76 more than broke even in Sunday's brutal final round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Howell finished his Open adventure with an 83.
``I don't reckon I've ever had a 22-shot swing before in two rounds of golf,'' he said.
The super-fast greens at the Open still rate as a sore point for many players, including Howell. He went from 3-over to 16-over on Sunday.
``It got laughable,'' Howell said. ``Since starting to play golf and dreaming to win a major championship, I never ever in my wildest dreams thought a Sunday round teeing off at 2 o'clock was going to turn laughable.
``I thought the USGA did a poor job of setting the golf course up.''
The only downside to Howell's record round Thursday was that there were so few people to witness it. A gallery of exactly 32 fans walked with him down the fairway along No. 8, the hole at which he sank a 20-foot putt to get to 10 under.
Interest is down because most of golf's top players are taking the week off following the Open.
Howell leads 1999 champion Rich Beem and Olin Browne by three strokes. Jeff Sluman is four back.
Howell set the record despite two bogeys in his first six holes. Starting on the back nine, he got to No. 16 before making par. On the front nine, he went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie from Nos. 4 through 8, giving him a brief thought of going for the magical 59 with a hole-in-one from the high tee at the ninth.
``It popped into my head,'' Howell said. ``But then you take a look at how small that green is from the top of that hill, and that thought is fleeting.''
Instead, Howell landed 30 feet short of the pin and two-putted for par.
Howell's round is one shot better than David Duval's year-old course record. The 28 over nine holes tops the mark of 29 shared by Brad Bryant (1991) and Jay Williamson (2000).
Howell's round came late in the day, eclipsing the morning show put on by Beem, who rekindled old memories with a 64. Beem shot a 30 on the front nine and flirted with the course record before two-putting from 3 feet to bogey the final hole.
``This course is in perfect shape. It's in the same exact conditions when I won here in '99,'' Beem said. ``The rough is not overly thick, but the greens are dynamite.''
Avenel is Beem's charm course. He became one of the most obscure winners in PGA Tour history when he won here five years ago, a weekend he remembers just as fondly as his PGA championship in 2002.
This year's tournament has come just in time. Beem hasn't had a top-30 finish this year and has missed nine of 15 cuts, although he did shoot a 64 last month at the St. Jude Classic.
``I'm not looking this week to turn things around, but obviously I'm looking for a shot of confidence coming out of this week,'' Beem said. ``And I certainly got it today.''