The 35-year-old Louisianan fired an 8-under-par 63 to lead Fred Funk, who finished runner-up in last week's B.C. Open, by one. Defending champion David Gossett, Tripp Isenhour and Robert Gamez are all two back after a trio of 65s.
'I kind of felt in control all day,' Heinen said.
Funk was in control as well. He had seven birdies in a bogey-free round, and hit every fairway and green in regulation.
'I really had a shot at birdie on almost every hole, so I played exceptionally well from tee to green and drove the ball really well,' Funk said. 'The golf course is in fabulous shape, so if you hit it well, it's going to reward you.'
This event is noted for producing first-time tour champions. Heinen isnt a novice; he has one victory, but none since 1994. That year he captured the Shell Houston Open.
'It has been so long since I have won, you can kind of call back on those memories, but sometimes there are a few spider webs in the way,' he said.
Heinen has split time between the PGA and Buy.Com tours since turning professional in 1989. This year, he has played seven events on the primary tour and five times on the secondary circuit. Hes fared far better in the junior league.
In limited action, Heninen has a runner-up finish and a third-place finish on the Buy.Com Tour. He lost to Steve Alker in a playoff in the Louisiana Open, despite shooting 61 in the third round.
'I need to be on the PGA Tour, and I feel that way,' he said. 'Only reason I am not on the PGA Tour is because I didn't play well. If I go out and play well I will be on the PGA Tour. So I am the only one that can go and get it done.'
Heinen got it done Thursday at the TPC at Deere Run, making nine birdies and one bogey. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, but needed only 26 putts.
'I just gave myself a lot of opportunities. I had a lot of 10-, 12-footers, too, and probably made most of them,' he said.
Gossett is trying to become the first player since David Frost, in 1993, to successfully defend his title. The 23-year-old, who has but one top-10 finish on tour this season, made six birdies and no bogeys in round one.
Tweleve players are three shots back, at 5-under, including last week's winner, Spike McRoy. Duffy Waldorf is also among those who opened in 67.
Waldorf is on the rebound from an exhausting appearance at last weeks Open Championship, where he tied for 18th. He posted three sub-par rounds at Muirfield, but will most remember the week for his third-round 77, when he shot 9s of 45 and 32.
Full-field scores from the John Deere Classic
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