PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Neb., took advantage of benign morning conditions Thursday at PGA Golf Club, posting an opening-round, 6-under-par 66 for a two-stroke lead in the 36th National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship presented by COBRA PUMA GOLF.Vermeer leads Bobby Pancratz of Scottsdale, Ariz., who is alone in second after posting a 68. A group of six players are another stroke back of Vermeer.
Before the wind picked up in the afternoon, Vermeer was more than halfway through his nearly flawless opening round.
The 34-year-old Vermeer, a PGA apprentice at Oak Hills Country Club in Omaha, began play on the back nine. He jumpstarted his round with three consecutive birdies at Nos. 12-14.
"I really got it going early and made some critical birdies on my first nine holes," said Vermeer. "I had one hiccup at 18 and made bogey, but that's going to happen out here."
Vermeer, who finished alone in 33rd place last year, in his only other appearance in the PGA Assistant Championship, hit 13 greens in regulation and needed only 25 putts on PGA Golf Club's Wanamaker Course.
"I just putted fantastic all day and that was key," said Vermeer. "I made those 5- or 6-footers that you need to make if you're going to have a really good round of golf."
Vermeer, whose father Robert Vermeer is the PGA director of golf at Oak Hills Country Club, feels comfortable on the Wanamaker Course. In addition to last year's Championship, Vermeer played the course in 2002 while competing on the former Golden Bear Tour.
"I really like this golf course and trust my instincts when hitting shots," said Vermeer. "I would like to be even more aggressive tomorrow, and if I can hit it a little better I will be just fine this weekend."
Pancratz, a PGA assistant professional at The Golf Club of Scottsdale in Arizona, also played in the morning wave, and used five birdies to offset a single bogey in his opening round.
"Anytime you shoot in the 60s on this golf course, you have to be extremely happy," said Pancratz, who made his only other appearance in the Championship in 2010. "The first time I played in this event I was pretty nervous, but this time it's just been a lot of fun. I think that helped me today."
Windy conditions caused scores in the afternoon groupings to increase, with Mike Emery of Canton, Ohio, posting the best score among that wave of players. Emery opened with a 69.
Two-time defending champion Frank Bensel of Purchase, N.Y., opened with a 74 and sits in a tie for 43rd.
The 2012 field features the top four finishers from last year's Championship as well as 122 players who advanced through their PGA Section Championships.
Also at stake for the Champion is a spot in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship, June 23-26, 2013, at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort.
Following the first 36 holes of play, the field for the final two rounds will be trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties.
The winner of the 2012 Championship will collect $9,000 of the $100,000 purse.