The 30-year old Steel, born in Malaysia but playing out of Birmingham, Ala., carded a ChampionsGate National course record 8-under par 64 and leads Texan Andrew Sanders by two shots heading into Tuesday's second round. Dave Levesque of Quebec City is the top Canadian, five strokes back.
A total of 240 golfers from 16 countries, including former U.S. Amateur champions Jeff Quinney (2000) and Hank Kuehne (1998), are trying to earn one of 20 exempt and 10 non-exempt cards for the 2002 Canadian Tour season. Kuehne is three shots back of Steel, while Quinney fired an even-par 72.
Each hopeful will play two rounds at both Greg Norman-designed International and National courses. The low 60 scores plus ties will take on the International course in Friday's final round.
Bohn suggested to Steel that he try to land membership status on the Canadian Tour after Steel was eliminated in the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying last fall. Bohn gained worldwide attention when he carded a 13-under 58 at last year's season-ending Bayer Championship
'I had a good talk with Jason, and he said I would enjoy playing here,' admitted Steel, who won the 1997 NIKE (now Buy.com) Tour Boise Open. 'I have heard nothing but good things about the Tour and I thought it would be a good option for me.'
If how he played Monday is any indication, the decision seems to be a wise one. Thanks in part to two chips that found the bottom of the cup, Steel is in ideal shape heading into the second round.
'I think the course was there for the taking today, there was virtually no wind,' he added. 'But the International (course) is a whole different animal. I'll try to keep playing the way I have been and attack it when I can.'
Sanders, 23, a three-time All-American at the University of Houston, drained two 45-foot putts and grabbed eagle on the National's par-4 seventh hole when his approach shot from 139 yards out dropped into the cup.
'I got a couple of good breaks today, but I played well enough to put myself in position to get those breaks,' said Sanders. 'It is a long tournament, but by playing well today I can kind of slip into cruise control and not force anything. I won't play conservative, though-it's not my game and it will come back to hurt me.'
The day also featured a hole-in-one when Clint Jensen of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., aced the 200-yard par-3 fif5th hole on the International.
'I didn't really see it ... I got up on the green and saw my ball mark about six feet from the pin,' said the 26-year-old, who eventually settled for a 1-over 73 on the day. 'I said to myself 'I don't think it made it to the back bunker, so I must have holed it'.'
The Canadian Tour kicks off its U.S. swing March 7-10 with the inaugural Texas Classic in Houston.