Theegala missed three fairways but was out of position just once at the Country Club of Jackson, to lead Nick Watney and Harold Varner III.

He had a birdie putt on every hole but one and finished his round with a 15-foot birdie on the par-4 ninth.

Theegala is on the growing list of young Americans with a strong pedigree. He swept the three awards as NCAA college player of the year his senior year at Pepperdine, which was cut short by the pandemic.

He made it to the PGA Tour on his first try through the Korn Ferry Tour finals.

"I really felt comfortable all day. Being in the fairway helps so much." - Sahith Theegala.

In his second start as a rookie, he found the tree-lined course to his liking and said his round was best described as "really stress free."

That started from the tee.

"Just drove it really well. I was really working it well," Theegala said. "I got my slider back.

"I was hitting a pretty good cut – probably 25- to 30-yard cut – out there and this course kind of allows it because the trees around the tee box aren't that close.

"I really felt comfortable all day," he said. "Being in the fairway helps so much."

It also was a big start for Watney, coming off one of his worst seasons.

Watney holed a couple of long putts, including a 45-footer for eagle on the par-5 second hole, for his lowest start to a PGA Tour event in 15 months.

Varner had another strong putting round in making nine birdies.

"The place is pretty pure right now, if you hit a lot of good golf shots you're going to get a lot of looks and you just got to be patient," Varner said. "And the way I'm putting it right now I just need to get it on the green."

Defending champion Sergio Garcia, the only player from the Ryder Cup last week in the field, had two birdies in a bogey-free round of 70 that left him six shots behind.

He is drained from last week, when he set the Ryder Cup record for most matches won in a European loss. His only frustration was having too many chances from the 20-foot range.

His birdies putt were from three feet and 10 feet, one of them on a par-5.

"Very happy about not making bogeys. Obviously, that's always a very positive thing, first round of the season bogey-free, very proud of that," Garcia said. "But at the same time I feel like I drove the ball quite well and didn't take advantage of it."

Lucas Herbert is the highest-placed Australian after his three-under 69 left him five behind Theegala in joint 32nd spot.