A group of of six players, led by young gun Luke Donald, are two back of Howell at 5-under. A large contingent stands just three shots off the lead at minus-4.
Howell, who started this season strong but has since faded out of the picture somewhat, began his day strong with birdies on one, three and four and closed the front side with back-to-back birdies on eight and nine.
'The toughest thing here is reading the greens,' said Howell. 'It's just shocking the way the ball wants to go because of the valleys or the mountains.'
A bogey-less day also brought him two more birdies on the back nine and final score of 7-under-65. Ranked in the top-10 in driving distance, Howell was able to take advantage of the par-5s, going 3-under on the four par-5s.
Howell, who finished fourth here last year, is coming off a tie for 17th at the PGA Championship where a disastrous third round 80 kept him from contending. After posting three top-10s in his first five starts of the 2002 season, Howell looked like he was on track to give Tiger some worries, but has instead struggled in his second full year on tour.
A well played final round at the PGA and a great beginning here in Reno, Howell hopes to play his way into the Tour Championship later this fall, as he currently stands at 39th on the money list.
'Up to this point, I'd give my year a 'B.' ... To give my year an 'A' I would need to win a tournament,' he said.
Sitting one back is J.L. Lewis who had the birdie train going to finish up his round. Playing the back nine first, he carded birdies on the 17th and 18th, then caught fire down the stretch, going birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie to close out the day and his round at 6-under-66.
Donald, a three-time All-American at Northwestern University, had a rollercoaster of a day but was still able to record a 6-under-66. His scorecard saw him go 5-under through seven holes, including a eagle at the par-5 fourth, but then traded three birdies for three bogeys over the final 11 holes.
Full-field scores from the Reno-Tahoe Open