Mahan hit the leaderboard with a 5-under-par 67.
Since his runner-up finish at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February, Mahan has been working through a sluggish spell without a top-20 finish in his last six starts. He missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open and Masters in back-to-back weeks.
“I think I was just trying too hard,” Mahan said.
Mahan struggled to an 82 in the second round at Augusta National, but he said Thursday that wasn’t really a bad thing.
“I think it just made me kind of stop and think about what I'm doing,” Mahan said. “If I make the cut and finish 40th, I don't think I stop and try to make changes and realize kind of what was going on. I was kind of playing OK for awhile, but I was still kind of going down the wrong path.”
Mahan is looking for his sixth PGA Tour title, his first since the Shell Houston Open 13 months ago.