CROMWELL, Conn. -- Jonathan Kaye found a way to baby his tender neck - and tear up the TPC at River Highlands.
Close to withdrawing because of a pinched nerve, Kaye shot an 8-under-par 62 Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Greater Hartford Open.
"I didn't think I would play today," Kaye said. "I pulled out of the pro-am. Last week in Westchester, every shot hurt. I was just trying to swing easy and go pain-free, which I did thanks to the help of the guys in the fitness trailer."
Kaye, winless in five full seasons on the PGA Tour, had a 6-under 29 in perfect early morning conditions on his first nine holes, the back nine at River Highlands.
"It was almost like indoor golf at the start. The greens were perfect," Kaye said. "The heat wasn't much of a factor. I'm from Arizona, so I'm used to it."
Kaye tied the back-nine record and was one stroke off the course mark set last year by Kirk Triplett. The former Colorado star matched the low rounds of his tour career, 10-under 62s in the 1999 Bob Hope Classic and 2000 Las Vegas Classic.
Japan's Shigeki Maruyama opened with a 63, the best round of his PGA Tour career, a week after withdrawing from the Buick Classic because of a stiff neck. He holed an 18-foot birdie chip on the 296-yard 15th hole, and missed only one fairway in regulation.
"I'm not very confident putting at the moment," Maruyama said through an interpreter. "But I just saw the line, first impression, hit the ball where I aimed and had success."
Jay Don Blake shot a 64, and Larry Mize, Frank Lickliter, Chris DiMarco, Scott Simpson, Fulton Allem, Chris Riley and Edward Fryatt were three back at 65.
Nick Faldo topped a large group at 66, and David Duval, Phil Mickelson and John Daly shot 67s. Mickelson was making his first start since shooting a 75 in the final round of the U.S. Open.
Kaye birdied the first three holes, hitting iron shots to 8 feet, 6 inches and 3 feet. He made a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole, hit to a foot on the par-3 16th, and made it three in a row with a 4-footer on the difficult 17th.
"Then I kind of struggled on the front nine, with two pars in a row," Kaye said, joking. "Then a nice bogey on the third hole."
He holed long birdie putt on Nos. 5 and 7 and closed with a 6-footer for his ninth birdie.
Blake had eight birdies and two bogeys.
"My wedge game kind of saved me," Blake said. "I felt like I hit it really well, but two or three shots got away from me."
Lickliter won the Kemper Insurance Open five weeks ago for his first tour title.
"The guy who wins this week will be the guy driving it in the fairway," Lickliter said. "There's some rough out there that's borderline U.S. Open rough."
Mize, winless since 1993, had his best round since a 64 in the first round of the Sony Open in January.
"I was in a lousy mood this morning," Mize said. "Then I started to get some birdies, and my mood got a lot better."
Davis Love III shot a 77. He was coming off a seventh-place tie two weeks in the U.S. Open after missing two months because of back and neck problems.
Divots: Stewart Cink, the 1997 winner, had a 68, his 20th consecutive round in the 60s at River Highlands. ... Matt Rosenfeld, the 17-year-old U.S. Junior champion from Plano, Texas, shot a 74 in his first PGA Tour round. ... Peter Jacobsen, the 1984 winner, also shot a 74 in his first start in more than three months following hip surgery. ... Fuzzy Zoeller, preparing for the senior tour, had a 72. Zoeller, making his 20th appearance in the event, will be 50 in November.
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