Japan's Ryuji Imada, a former standout at the University of Georgia, eagled his final hole to join Stephen Marino, Tommy Armour III, Bob May and Craig Kanada at 67 on the Greg Norman-designed TPC Sugarloaf.
Sutherland's 8-iron shot hit the lip of the bunker on the par-3 16th and rolled into the sand, but the 42-year-old Californian, who began play on the back nine, holed the bunker shot for the first of three straight birdies.
After hitting a wedge within 5 feet at No. 17, Sutherland reached the 18th green in two shots, leading to the second of his four birdies on the par 5s.
'It kind of adds up fast when they come in bunches like that,' Sutherland said. 'It was a really just a solid day for me.'
Imada, who finished in the top 15 of the U.S. Open the last two years, recovered from a double bogey at the par-4 fifth that left him 2 over. A few Georgia fans helped him stay loose with playful Bulldog barks from the gallery.
'After the double on 5, I knew I had to make birdies,' Imada said. 'But I knew there were three par 5s that were reachable, and once I got to six and made birdie, I started feeling better. My shots showed it.'
Imada has made 10 of 15 cuts this year, including a ninth-place finish at the Byron Nelson Championship. He tied for 10th last year in suburban Atlanta.
'I love the golf course,' Imada said. 'It's got wide landing areas off the tee and really nice, fast greens. The people here are nice all the time, so that makes me feel good.'
Dicky Pride, Joe Ogilvie, Mark Brooks and D.J. Brigman shot 68s. Stewart Cink and Henrik Stenson opened with 70s, Masters champion Zach Johnson shot a 71, and Charles Howell III had a 72.
Sutherland, whose lone victory came at the 2002 Accenture Match Play Championship, missed five fairways, but hit 16 greens and had just one three-putt, coming from 22 feet and leading to his lone bogey at the par-4 fifth.
Sutherland's best finish this year came at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where was second to Phil Mickelson despite a final round that included six missed putts inside 8 feet.
Mickelson, the two-time defending champion at Sugarloaf, stayed home this week after winning THE PLAYERS Championship four days ago. Even without Tiger Woods and Mickelson, Sutherland feels no lack of excitement.
'I don't come to a tournament depending on the field,' Sutherland said. 'I don't think about who's playing and who's not playing. The main reason is that it doesn't matter, because I need to play well regardless of who's there. I can't think when Tiger or Phil or whoever else is not there that this is my week. It doesn't work that way.'
Marino, a regular on the PGA TOUR after earning his first card at Q-school last year, credited his ball striking with a solid round that included a nearly disastrous adventure at the par-4 12th hole.
'I hooked it left off the tee into the water, and where I had to drop, there was no way I could go at the green,' Marino said. 'So I just chipped it out 20 feet back to the fairway and then wedged in there about 8 feet and made the putt for bogey. I was absolutely thrilled to death.'
John Daly, the 1994 winner, withdrew because of a sore shoulder.