Stankowski birdied 11 of his first 15 holes at the English Turn Golf & Country Club, and then held on for a career-best 11-under-par 61.
Stankowski was the lowest of the low in the first round at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans, as 12 players shot 66 or lower.
I knew I was playing well and all I had to do was get it done, said Stankowski. I feel my game is where it needs to be. The confidence factor was high.
Brian Watts and Kenny Perry each eagled their first holes of the day en route to shooting a pair of 8-under-par 64s. They share second place, one-shot clear of Jim Carter, Brian Wilson and Keith Clearwater, who all opened in 65.
Phil Mickelson is five off the pace following a 6-under-par 66. Native Louisianan Hal Sutton is six back after a 67, as is Ernie Els.
In his eighth full season on tour, the 31-year-old Stankowski is in search of his third career title, and his first since the 1997 Hawaiian Open.
Stankowski has had success in the Bayou State before. In 1996, he captured the Buy.Com Louisiana Open, and then won the BellSouth Classic on the PGA Tour the following week.
He remains the only player to win on both tour in consecutive weeks.
Stankowski is also a proven marksman on the big tour. This year, he played the five-round Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 32-under-par, only to be outdone by Joe Durant, who set a 90-hole tour scoring record at 36-under 324.
Stankowskis round included 20 putts. He also had a pair of chip-ins on the 9th and 13th holes.
Following a birdie at the 14th, Stankowski stood in the 15th fairway with thoughts of 59 running through his mind.
I had 228 [yards] to the hole and thought if I could stiff a 2-iron, I might be able to make eagle and go to 12-under with three holes to play.
Stankowski did stiff his approach shot to eight feet, but missed the eagle effort. Still, he birdied the hole to move to 11-under-par.
However, that's where his run to 59 ended.
Stankowski missed the fairway and the green on the par-4 16th, but successfully got up and down for his 4. Then, after coming up 30 yards short of the green on the par-3 17th, he pitched to within six feet and converted the save.
At the 18th, Stankowski managed to two-putt from 50+ feet.
It was sort of an anti-climatic finish, but it was a good day, Stankowski said. Im kinda glad I didnt shoot 59. Its too big a story for a Thursday.
Watts and Perry held the lead throughout the better part of the opening round.
Watts, who is best known for losing to Mark OMeara in a playoff in the 1998 British Open, was 8-under after his first 11 holes ' aided by his eagle on his first hole, the par-4 10th.
The Canadian-born Watts added one more birdie to his card, but bogeyed the par-3 8th, his 17th of the day, to enter the clubhouse at 8-under.
Watts, 35, has conditional exemption on the 2001 PGA Tour after finishing last year 133rd in earnings. This is only his third stateside start this season; though he finished tied for 12th in last weeks Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic.
Coming back from hip surgery in January, Watts was pleased with his first round; in particular, his stunning eagle at the 1st.
I cant emphasize how important that start was, said Watts. It was a smooth 6-iron [from 181 yards] and it was downwind. Thats a very hard green to hold, so I landed it at the front of the green and let it roll about 12 or 14 yards.
Luckily, the pin was all the way at the back edge of the green and it found the cup. That shot carried the momentum the rest of the day.
Incredibly, Perry also eagled his opening hole, the par-4 1st. Perry, who like Watts is best remembered for his runner-up finish in a major, collected six more birdies to tie his counterpart.
It was a pretty interesting day, I didnt have many good vibes before the start of the round, said Perry, who lost to Mark Brooks in a playoff in the 1996 PGA Championship. Its been about three or four years since I holed one from the fairway.
Full-field scores from the Compaq Classic of New Orleans