Brandon Nagy dropped his opening shot at The American Express but recovered to make 10 birdies and take the lead after day one in La Quinta.
Playing the Nicklaus course, the American strung together three birdies three times over the course of his round and took the solo lead with a round of 64 when he holed a birdie putt at the 18th.
His score of eight under is one better than Byeong Hun An who recorded a 65 on the same course, while three players are tied for third a shot further back.
Among them is Scotland's Martin Laird who found the green with his third shot on the par-4 18th but ended up carding a five to finish with a 66.
Kevin Na, who took the Sony Open in Hawaii, sits 143rd after a poor round of three over, Scotland's Russell Knox is tied for 39th on three under, while Harry Hall is the best of the English contingent having carded a two-under round of 70, for a share of 61st.