Bertsch was the last player to register for the five-day, four-course tournament after a comically difficult travel path from Hawaii to the Palm Springs area, yet he still posted the best round of his PGA Tour career.
Bertsch had 10 birdies without a bogey even while helping line up putts for his pro-am playing partners under intermittent rain and wind.
"I was just comfortable," Bertsch said. "I always like these formats, because I help the guys out, and it keeps me maybe not so focused on myself until it's time to hit, and then I just go and hit."
J.P. Hayes, George McNeill, Joe Ogilvie and Garrett Willis were three strokes back. Heath Slocum, who skipped last week's Sony Open while his wife gave birth, was in a large group at 6-under.
The rain pelting Southern California this week didn't really cause trouble until later Wednesday, with many players beginning the day wearing nothing thicker than golf shirts before the wind and moisture whipped up.
"It was Palm Springs golf -- not a lot of wind, starting to warm up," Slocum said. "And then all of a sudden when I made the turn, it definitely kicked right back up. The wind started blowing, and it cooled off. I put the sweater back on, and obviously golf is a little more difficult."
Not for Bertsch -- although after missing just two greens and three fairways in a sizzling 25-putt round, he realized he certainly couldn't chalk up his career day to rest or preparation.
He was stuck in Hawaii for a day following the Sony Open, where he finished an encouraging 25th, with his wife and daughters when their red-eye flight was cancelled. They eventually flew Monday night from Hawaii to Phoenix, where the Denver native picked up his RV and drove across the desert to Palm Springs, arriving late Tuesday afternoon.
Quinney, Bertsch and the 25-year-old Prugh all played the Nicklaus Private course, which is considered among the easiest on tour -- but Bertsch hadn't visited it since qualifying school in the 1990s. Thanks to his travel woes, he didn't even get a refresher look before teeing it up.
"It was like a new adventure over every hill," Bertsch said. "I didn't know really what to expect. It was one of those courses I just didn't remember a lot about."
Yet Bertsch is no stranger to difficult paths through golf. His career has been a big challenge.
He was off the tour from 1997 until 2006, when his comeback was derailed by a bout of vertigo, which sidelined him for most of 2007. He got a medical exemption to play in 2008, but finished 126th on the money list after sitting out late-season tournaments when he mistakenly thought his card for 2009 was safe.
Bertsch then he broke his right foot while slipping on the stairs at his home in late 2008, limiting him to two PGA Tour events and four Nationwide Tour stops last year. A solid performance in Q-school in December got him back on track.
TAYLOR STARTS FAST
Vaughn Taylor is off to a strong start in his 2010 PGA Tour debut. The Evans resident, who didn't qualify for the season-opening SBS Championship and then skipped last week's Sony Open, opened with 6-under-par 66 in the Bob Hope Classic and is tied for eighth.
Augusta native Charles Howell, who tied for fifth in the Sony Open, had 68 and is tied for 25th place.
Former Louisville, Ga., resident Brian Gay had 71 and Swainsboro's Blake Adams opened with 74.
-- From staff reports