Scott Berliner of Albany, N.Y., fired an opening-round 6-under-par 66 to grab a one-stroke lead Thursday in the 35th Callaway Golf PGA Assistant Championship at PGA Golf Club.
He leads Timothy Puetz of East Northport, N.Y., who opened with a 67. Shawn Warren of Windham, Maine, who held the first-round lead in 2010, is alone in third after an opening-round 68.
The overcast and calm conditions on the Wanamaker Course helped Berliner, a PGA assistant professional at Normanside Country Club in Delmar, N.Y., though he didn't get off to the start he envisioned.
"The wind was down today and I think that helped us all out," said Berliner, who is competing in his fourth Callaway Golf PGA Assistant Championship. "I started out a little nervous and had a bogey on 12, which was not the way I wanted to start."
But Berliner quickly bounced back, and did not card a bogey the rest of his opening round. He used seven birdies over the last 15 holes to shoot his lowest score in Championship history.
"I regained my focus after that hiccup and I played well down the stretch," said Berliner. "I birdied both par 3s on the front and played the par 5s 3 under. That is huge in a tournament like this."
The 36-year-old is also coming off his best finish in the PGA Assistant Championship, a tie for 14th in 2010.
"I had a really good summer in New York and I played well here last year so I proved to myself that I could play well," said Berliner. "The goal is to be up near the top on Sunday. I want to put another good round together tomorrow and see what happens this weekend."
Puetz, a PGA assistant professional at Hamlet Golf and Country Club in Commack, N.Y., who is playing in his first PGA Assistant Championship, used seven birdies to offset two bogeys in his opening round.
"I got off to a nervous start but made a couple birdies and settled in," said Puetz. "I putted the ball well all day and the preparation over the past few weeks really paid off today."
Defending Champion Frank Bensel of Purchase, N.Y., a PGA assistant professional at Century Country Club in Purchase N.Y., opened with a 72 and sits in a tie for 27th.
"It wasn't exactly the start I wanted, but I'm not out of it by any stretch," said Bensel. "I do need to throw up some 65s or 66s over the next few days to get back into it, though, that's for sure."
Stephany Fleet of Muskegon, Mich., a PGA apprentice at Muskegon (Mich.) Country Club and the only woman competing in this year's Championship, carded an opening-round 76.
The par-72 Wanamaker Course played a half-stroke easier then it did in 2010, yielding a 74.09 first-round scoring average.
The 2011 Championship features 126 PGA assistant professionals and apprentices. The format was changed in 2010 to include the top-4 finishers from last year's Championship as well as 122 players who advanced through their Section Championship.
Following the first 36 holes of play, the field will be reduced to the low 70 scorers and ties for the final two rounds.
Callaway Golf returns as the title sponsor for the third consecutive year.
At stake, provided the Champion meets eligibility requirements, is a coveted spot in the 45th PGA Professional National Championship presented by Club Car and Mercedes-Benz, June 24-27, 2012, at Bayonet and Black Horse in Seaside, Calif. Additionally, the top 10 finishers and ties earn a berth into the first stage of the 2012 PGA Tour Qualifying School.