Shawn Warren of Windham, Me., took advantage of benign early-morning conditions on Thursday and birdied five holes on his second nine on the Wanamaker Course en route to an opening-round 7-under-par 65 and a one-stroke lead at the 34th Callaway Golf PGA Assistant Championship at PGA Golf Club.
Warren leads Brett Stegmaier of Vero Beach, Fla., who opened with a 66, by a stroke.
The 25-year-old Warren started his round on the back nine, but he began his rapid rise up the leader board with birdies on the first four holes of the Wanamaker's front nine.
"I made an easy birdie on No. 1, which really jump-started the round," said Warren, a PGA apprentice at Falmouth (Maine) Country Club. "I got lucky at No. 4 with a long putt but closed well with a solid up-and-down birdie at 16."
Warren, who will leave to play in the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School on Monday, has been gaining confidence in his game over the last few months.
"I have been playing well and practicing hard, and it seems to be paying off so far this week," said Warren. "I didn't have a single bogey and I kept the ball in play all day."
Warren credits his precision off the tee for his strong start.
"I was hitting my driver perfectly so I was able to attack the golf course," said Warren. "It made for an easier round and I didn't have to play defensive."
Stegmaier, a PGA apprentice at Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, Conn., started strong with five birdies on his front nine.
"I hit every green on the front nine and just putted great," said Stegmaier, who is competing in his first PGA Assistant Championship. "I played well overall today, and really, just stayed out of my own way."
Nick Bailes of Brentwood, Tenn., a PGA apprentice at Brentwood (Tenn.) Country Club, is alone in third after opening with a 67.
Jennifer Heinz, a PGA assistant professional at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and one of only two women competing in the Championship, shot an opening-round 73.
"I have only played twice in the last 13 weeks, so I am pretty happy with how I played today," said Heinz, a graduate of Sam Houston State University, a PGA Golf Management University Program. "My goal was to make the cut and I hope to do it."
The par-72 Wanamaker Course proved a stern test, yielding a 74.56 first-round scoring average.
Following the first 36 holes of play, the field for the final two rounds will be reduced to the low 70 scorers and ties.
The Championship features 126 PGA assistant professionals and apprentices. The format was changed in 2010 to include the top four finishers from last year's Championship as well as 122 players who advanced through their Section Championship.
Also a stake, provided the Champion meets eligibility requirements, is a coveted spot in the 44th PGA Professional National Championship, June 26-29, 2011, at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club.
Callaway Golf returns as the title sponsor for the second consecutive year.
The PGA Assistant Championship continues a tradition of excellence in bringing together some of the most talented players in The PGA of America as well as being models of the caliber of members who make up the world's largest working sports organization. Past champions include past Ryder Cup Team members Fred Funk and Loren Roberts, and past PGA Professional National Champions Darrell Kestner, Tim Thelen and Bruce Zabriski.