Barnes shot an 8-under 64 over the TPC-Louisiana course for his low round of what has been a forgettable year on the circuit. This is his 11th event of 2013 and he has missed the cut in seven of the previous 10.
Barnes has one runner-up finish in his tour career, that coming at the 2009 U.S. Open. He led that tournament going into the final round, only to shoot a 76 and wind up tied for second with Phil Mickelson and David Duval, two strokes behind tournament winner Lucas Glover.
Glover finished Thursday's round in a tie for second at 65 with Boo Weekley while D.A. Points and Morgan Hoffman shared fourth at 66.
The large group at 67 included Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els and Charlie Beljan, who won the final regular event on the tour in 2012 despite an anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital after the third round.
Guan Tianliang, the 14-year-old amateur who made the cut at the Masters two weeks ago, shot a 72 Thursday and was tied for 85th place. Defending champion Jason Dufner posted a 70.