Andre Stolz, who won the LaSalle Bank Open earlier this year, leads a group of seven players tied one stroke behind at 5-under-par 67. Stolz is joined there by Terry Hatch, John Adams, Craig Bowden, Roger Tambellini, Chris Tidland and Fran Quinn.
Van Pelt, the only one of the leaders to tee off in the morning group, got going on the back nine with a birdie at the par-4 11th. He went on to birdie the 15th and 18th, both par-5s, to head to the front side at minus-3.
Around the turn, Van Pelt picked up another birdie at the par-4 third. He came back to birdie the par-5 fifth.
Van Pelt, who won the Omaha Classic in early August, closed out his bogey-free round with a birdie at the par-5 ninth.
'I birdied all four of the par-5s so that makes life easy on the other holes,' said Van Pelt. 'I tried to make things as simple as possible. I just tried to keep the golf course in front of me. I just wanted to hit fairways and greens.'
Freeman, who won two events in the 1998 season, opened with a birdie at the fourth. He then notched back-to-back birdies from the eighth. However, his hot streak ended with a bogey at the par-4 10th.
The 44-year-old atoned for that mistake with an eagle at No. 15. He came right back to birdie the next and closed with a birdie on the last to join the leaders.
'The wind really started blowing pretty hard when I reached the seventh hole,' said Freeman, who struggled with back problems earlier in the week. 'Hopefully we'll get a gentle breeze Friday.'
Couch got off to a slow start. He bogeyed the par-4 second, but came back with two hot stretches to jump up the leaderboard. He birdied the sixth before consecutive birdies from the eighth.
Couch, the 2001 Florida Classic winner, really caught fire on the back side. He birdied the par-3 12th and came right back with a birdie at the next. Couch made it three straight with a birdie at the par-4 14th and closed out a run of four straight birdies at No. 15.
McCabe was the final player to climb to minus-6. He started on the back nine with two straight birdies from the 11th. He moved to 3 under with a birdie on No. 15. However, he stumbled with a bogey at the 17th.
McCabe erased that mistake with a birdie on 18. On the front nine, he birdied the third to get to 4 under and closed out his fine round with birdies at the eighth and ninth to join the lead.
'I'm getting more comfortable every time I play out here,' said McCabe, a Monday qualifier. 'I played textbook golf today, hitting greens and making putts.'