Four days after finishing 57th at a tough U.S. Open, Curtis made the TPC at Avenel look easy, carding nine birdies in a bogey-free round to take a one-shot lead over Jeff Gove.
Curtis collected his birdies in two long stretches: four straight from the second, and five in a row from the 13th. The 62 bested his previous career-low of 64, set three times, including twice last year.
'Everything was easy,' said Curtis. 'I hit every shot pretty much where I wanted to. Hit it close quite a few times and made a few putts as well. So everything, it just was slow and easy.'
Gove posted nine birdies too, but also had a bogey in his round of 8-under-par 63. He was 6 under par on the front nine.
Jose Coceres shot a 7-under 64 to stand alone in third place. Steve Flesch and Will MacKenzie share fourth place 6-under 65, while Bart Bryant, Grant Waite and James H. McLean are tied one shot further back in sixth.
A lot of players chose to take this week off following four long days at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open. Curtis saw it a different way.
'For me, I was playing well, so I knew I needed to play. If I wasn't playing well, then maybe I wouldn't be here,' said Curtis.
'Just because all the top players in the world aren't here doesn't mean it's not a good field. Everybody here is a good player, and so anybody can play anymore. That's the way golf is going.'
Curtis opened his round with a par, then began his first birdie string at the par-5 second, where he knocked a sand wedge within 4 feet.
He followed that with long birdie putts at the third and fourth holes before setting up the fourth birdie with another nice sand wedge shot at the par-4 fifth.
After seven consecutive pars, Curtis chipped to within a foot at the par-5 13th to get back on the birdie track. He drove the green at the 301-yard, par-4 14th and two-putted for another birdie.
Curtis went pin-seeking on the next three holes, rolling putts of 12, one and eight feet to reach minus-9.
Since claiming the British Open in 2003 -- in just his 16th start on the PGA TOUR, no less -- Curtis has gone without a second victory. Thursday was the sixth time he has held a first-round lead since that day at Royal St. George's.
'I feel like I'm playing like I did three years ago,' said Curtis. 'I'm making a lot of cuts, just haven't put four rounds together. So I felt like if I could get four rounds together then I would play extremely well and maybe have a chance to win.
'It's been tough, but the last year, but it's been pretty good. I just wish I could get four rounds together.'
Gove strung three birdies together from the 14th hole to pull within one shot of Curtis, but ended with two straight pars. His 63 was also a personal best -- one shot better than the 64 he shot in the second round of the 2002 Greater Hartford Open.
Weak as the field is this week -- only two of the world top 20 are here -- it got weaker when defending champion Sergio Garcia pulled out with a back injury.