PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Tim Herron figured he was on the verge of a great round. He just didn't know it would be his lowest score in three years, a 9-under 63, or that it would come Thursday in the first round of the Buick Challenge.
After warming up in the rain, "Lumpy" got on a roll by taking only 23 putts on the soft greens of Callaway Gardens for a two-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson and six others.
Mickelson, playing the Buick Challenge for the first time in 10 years, also had a good day on the greens, but most of the focus was on the club in his hands - a new putter that looked like a branding iron.
It was designed to get the ball rolling immediately, and it helped Mickelson to a 65. He was tied with Rocco Mediate, Bob May, David Gossett, Ben Crane and Michael Long, an alternate who didn't know he was playing until 20 minutes before he teed off.
David Toms was among those at 66.
Herron started on No. 10 and played the back nine in only 2 under, but an eagle on the 508-yard second hole - he hit a 6-iron to 4 feet - got him going. He played his final nine holes in 29, tying the record on the Mountain View Course.
"It was a great stretch, and I knew the cylinders were starting to run," Herron said. "To play like that is why we play golf. I wasn't even thinking 29. I just tried to birdie as many as holes as I could."
It was his best score since a 62 in the final round of the 1999 Greater Hartford Open, and his best start in a PGA Tour event since a 10-under 62 in the first round of the 1996 Honda Classic. He went on to a wire-to-wire victory, his first on tour.
Herron hasn't won since 1999, although he wasn't surprised by his score. The man known as "Lumpy" for his roundish physique is coming off a tie for fourth in the Disney World Golf Classic after rounds of 66-65-66-65.
"I knew it was coming. I didn't know it was going to be today," he said.
The course certainly helped him out, and not just because Herron says he grew up playing in mud when the snow in Minnesota finally melted.
Overnight rains lingered into the early part of the first round, and officials allowed players to lift, clean and replace their balls in the fairway. With perfect lies in the short grass and soft greens, that turned the first round into target practice.
Only 14 players in the 132-man field failed to shoot par or better.
One of them was David Duval, who is playing his final PGA Tour event of the year. A winner at Callaway Gardens two years ago, Duval was 3 over after his first five holes and rallied for a 73.
This also is the final PGA Tour event at Callaway Gardens, which hasn't been able to find a replacement title sponsor. While it's a favorite among players, the gallery is sparse and corporate entertainment is minimal.
That much was clear when Cameron Beckman holed out from 129 yards with a 9-iron on the third hole. The only witness - other than the players, caddies and scoring officials - was the woman behind the green using a laser to measure the shots. She held up her hands to signal touchdown.
Mickelson is the highest-ranked player in the field (No. 2). When he finished his round of 65, nine people were following him.
Lefty was playing for the first time since the Ryder Cup, where he lost a crucial singles match to Phillip Price on the final day.
He has a busy offseason in front of him, and a new toy - the putter from Scotty Cameron which is a modified version of the "Futura." It has a small bar that wraps around the back of the blade from one end to the other.
"We've been working on it for two years," Mickelson said. "Granted, the cosmetics I haven't spent much time on. There's a lot of improvement that can be done."
The rest of his game seems to be in good shape.
Divots: On the day Curtis Strange relinquished his three-year term as U.S. Ryder Cup captain, he shot his best round of the year, a 4-under 68. "You think that was a coincidence?" he said. Strange, playing on a sponsor's exemption, has made the cut in only one of 10 tournament this year. ... The Mountain View course was the first one all year in which every hole was mapped for the Shotlink scoring system, which tracks every shot by every player on every hole. ... Beckman played his first PGA Tour event as a father. His wife, Jennifer, gave birth to a girl Oct. 16. They named her Hannah. ... Stewart Cink is the latest convert to the belly putter. He started using it last week at Disney because "I wasn't making anything." Cink had a 69.