Verplank tied his career low round of 62 at the par-70 Cottonwood Valley Course in Irving, TX. At 8-under-par, Verplank is two shots clear of his nearest competitors, David Duval, Tim Herron and Chris Riley, all of whom shot 64.
Tiger Woods, making his first start since winning his fourth straight major at the Masters, is four off the pace after opening in 4-under-par 66.
All of the leaders took advantage of the easier of the two courses in rotation this week. In fact, 20 of the top 21 names on the leaderboard played Cottonwood Valley on Thursday.
Friday, theyll get a taste of the host course, the TPC at Las Colinas, which is the sole course in play over the third and final rounds.
Youve got to play well on this course with the soft conditions, said Woods, who owns a share of the Cottonwood course record ' a 61 in the first round in 1999.
The wind seems to blow a little bit more on the other course. Here, hills and houses shelter and block the wind.
Though he got off to a good start with a pair of birdies over his first three holes, Woods was still just trying to shake off the rust from a four-week layoff.
It took a little while to get into a competitive flow, Woods said.
Two-under through seven holes, Woods blocked his tee shot on the par-4 8th into the right trees. He then failed to reach the fairway on his second shot and eventually carded a double bogey 6.
However, Tiger responded by birdieing the par-3 9th.
For good measure, the 1997 Nelson champion carded three more birdies on his inward half for a round of 66.
I was pleased with the way I hit it, Woods said. I hit a lot of good shots. I was really surprised with my touch around the green. Usually when youre off for a while, thats the toughest thing to get back ' your touch.
While thousands flocked and climbed trees to watch Woods, the unassuming Verplank climbed his way to the top of the leaderboard.
The 36-year-old has yet to win in 2001, though he does have three top-4 finishes and ranks 27th on the tour in earnings with over $750,000.
Verplank is coming off a career-best season a year ago; one in which he won the Reno-Tahoe Open and over $1.7 million.
Friday, he made his way around Cottonwood Valley sans bogey. His day included eight birdies, two of which came courtesy of 25-foot putts and one from a holed bunker shot.
Obviously, I played very well, said Verplank. I got lucky a couple of times, made a couple of long putts. You know, the conditions kind of got a little tougher as the day went on because the wind was picking up, but the greens are pretty soft and not very fast, so you can take advantage of it.
Born in nearby Dallas, Verplank has a history with the tournament and its host.
Verplank was a standard bearer before carrying scoring signs was fashionable. He worked the event in his early teens when it was held at Preston Trail Golf Club, where he is now a member.
While Verplank toted the sign, his mom kept group scores. It was through his mom, and the fact that he was one of the areas top junior players, that Verplank was first introduced to Byron Nelson.
He called me and asked me if Id like to help ' him help me a little bit. Well yeah. Sure, Verplank recalled.
I probably got to play with him a dozen times when I was in high school and college. It was great.
Great would aptly describe Rileys finish on Thursday. The third-year tour member birdied his final three holes at Cottonwood Valley to match his career-low round on tour.
I feel good about everything. Im driving it good. Im hitting my irons good. The only thing Im a little shaky on is my putting, Riley said. I know its there. I just gotta go work it out.
Putting didnt appear to be a problem down the stretch. Riley rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on 17 and a 15-footer on 18.
Putting caused Duval problems earlier in the season, and then injuries took over. An ailing back and tendinitis in his right wrist have teamed to help keep Duval out of the 2001 winners circle.
Like Riley, Duval made his way around Cottonwood Valley to the tune of six birdies and no bogeys. Of those six birdies, none were longer than eight feet.
It was just like last week, Duval said. I hit it close today and that makes a big difference. I didnt make a long putt all day, didnt have to.
News, Notes and Numbers
*David Peoples was the only player inside the top-20 after the first round who played on the TPC at Las Colinas. Peoples shot 4-under-par 66 to tie for 9th place.
*The par-70 Cottonwood Valley Course played to an overall average of 69.179. The par-70 TPC at Las Colinas first-round scoring average was 70.987.
*Australian Geoff Ogilvy was disqualified for continuing to use a putter that was damaged other than in the normal course of play (Rule 4-3b). Ogilvy could not be reached for comment, but it was assumed the damage inflicted on his putter happened shortly after No. 3, where he took a triple bogey.
Full-field scores from the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic