MacKenzie shot an 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead over Lucas Glover, Steve Marino, Brian Davis and Jeff Overton after the first round of the Wyndham Championship.
MacKenzie, who spent a more than a decade away from the sport, nearly made a hole-in-one and had nine birdies to offset one bogey in taking an encouraging first step toward the second victory of his career.
'People might think that since I quit golf for a while and lived the life of an outdoor enthusiast that, you know, I break the mold, and I'm sure I do,' Mackenzie said. 'I want my peers to respect me as a golfer, and I think most of them do, but (I) also like to cheer them up a little bit and do silly things like stand on my head from time to time because that's what I like to do.'
Seven players -- Carl Pettersson, John Merrick, Todd Hamilton, Todd Fischer, Greg Kraft, John Huston and 2003 winner Shigeki Maruyama -- were two strokes back on a steamy day at the 7,333-yard Forest Oaks Country Club course where temperatures were high and scores were consistently low. After the opening round, 79 players -- or, more than half of the field of 156 -- were 3 under or better.
'You've just got to do the same things we did today -- put the ball in the fairway and take advantage when you get the short clubs,' Glover said.
Both Pettersson and Glover started quickly and threatened Mackenzie's early lead by moving to 7 under early in their back nines, and had their sights on the course record of 62 before fading.
Pettersson bogeyed No. 16 after missing a 6-foot par putt, and had pars on four of his last five holes. Glover, starting on the back nine, birdied seven of his first 11 holes but closed his bogey-free round with seven consecutive pars.
'I don't think (Bill) Parcells coaches in the fourth without knowing what the score is,' Glover said. 'I knew what was going on. I just kept trying to make birdies. (Watching the leaderboard) didn't change anything.'
Overton hit 17 greens, had three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 and seemed poised to tie MacKenzie, but he lipped out a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 18 when he said his shot was knocked offline by a divot.
'You're going to miss some. Whenever the greens are getting beat up late in the day, you're going to do that occasionally,' Overton said.
But the story of the day clearly was MacKenzie's. The one-time golf prodigy from Greenville, N.C., became burned out at the age of 14 and walked away from the sport for 11 years.
For a while he lived in a van in Montana, spending his summers kayaking and his winters snowboarding, and once in the mid-1990s even considered kicking field goals for coach Steve Logan at his hometown school, East Carolina.
At 25, he was lured back to the links after watching his hero's final professional victory: Payne Stewart's fist-pumping triumph at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, one of MacKenzie's favorite courses, and the accomplishment prompted him to pick up the clubs again and work his way up the sport's ladder. He joined the PGA TOUR in 2005.
'I saw the competitive ... flare involved,' MacKenzie said. 'Tired of beating myself up. I was in a little mini mid-life crisis. I didn't know if I wanted to go back to Montana or Alaska or go to France ... I hit some balls and I was like, 'Wow, this is fantastic. Maybe I want to play again.''
Among the highlights of MacKenzie's round Thursday were a near-miss on the 226-yard, par-3 eighth. He used a 4-iron to drill the flagstick, then tapped in a 3-inch putt for birdie. MacKenzie then opened the back nine with birdies on five of seven holes, rolling in a 21-foot birdie putt on No. 16 during his march up the leaderboard.
MacKenzie also led after the first round of his only PGA TOUR victory, a one-stroke win last August in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
'I love sleeping on a lead,' he said. 'It's not going to bother me. Well, maybe on Saturday night.'