Russell Henley recorded eight birdies and holds a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson after the first round of the Northern Trust on Thursday at the Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, N.Y.
Henley finished the first round of the FedEx Cup playoff event with a 6-under 64 and edged Johnson, who finished strong by using his old putter following a shaky start.
Henley was able to take the lead by playing conservatively and seeking out safe spots on the course. He is ranked No. 19 but needed a strong round to stay there and potentially move up.
"I don't know what the key is, or the secret," Henley said. "I just tried to hit the fairway, make sure I hit the green when I was in the fairway, and the greens are great and I rolled in a couple of putts."
The 28-year-old Henley converted seven of his birdies from within 12 feet. His other birdie was an 80-foot shot on the fifth hole.
He also produced the lowest round at the Glen Oaks Club, surpassing the 6-under 66 by Adam Fuchs in the final round of last year's Metropolitan Open.
Henley's showing was the lowest first round at the Northern Trust since Kevin Stadler opening with a 64 at Liberty National Golf Club in 2013. It was the fifth time Henley shot a 64 in the first round of a PGA event and the second time he took a lead after an opening round.
Johnson recorded his lowest round since winning the Riviera in February. Johnson's title there was the first of three straight victories leading into the Masters, an event he was forced to withdraw from due to a back injury.
PGA champion Justin Thomas fell behind early but finished with a 68.
Jordan Spieth posted a 69. Hideki Matsuyama, the No. 1 seed going into this round of playoffs, did not record a birdie and finished with a 74.
Rory McIlroy hit three bogeys on the back nine and shot 73.
Among those outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup are Harold Varner III and Bubba Watson, who both shot a 67.
Phil Mickelson birdied his final two holes to get a 72 and is trying to show potential as a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup. Mickelson has been on every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team since 1994.
"I would love to be on that team, but I've got to bring something to the table," Mickelson said. "And, so, if I can play well this week and next week and show that I'm playing as well as I know I'm playing ... but the only thing that matters is the score. So I've got to go shoot scores. If I can do that and add something to the team, I would love to be on it."