Instead a pair of late bogeys cost him that chance, but did not cost him the first-round lead of the Legends of Golf. The Englishman posted a 5-under- par 67 and is one ahead of defending champion Jay Haas, Tom Purtzer and Tom Kite.
'I like the course,' acknowledged James, the 1999 European Ryder Cup captain. 'It's a little tighter and tougher than last year.'
In 2006, James fired a final-round, 8-under 64 to tie for 13th place. His start on Friday sure made it look like James would continue his amazing play at this venue.
At the opening hole, James sank a 12-footer for birdie. then made a good par save at the par-3 third. James hit a 9-iron to 6 feet to set up a birdie at the fourth, then holed a 15-foot birdie putt at six to go 3 under par.
He parred his next four holes around the turn and knocked a 3-wood shot on to the green with his second shot at the par-5 11th. James rolled in the 6-foot eagle putt and followed with an 8-footer for birdie to get to minus-6.
James recorded another good par save from 5 feet at the par-5 13th and hit a spectacular second shot to a foot at No. 14. He tapped in the birdie putt and found himself 7 under par and six shots ahead of the field at that point.
'I knew players were going to get to the easier holes,' admitted James, who won this year's Allianz Championship. 'I actually expected to finish 8- or 9-under. I was starting to swing better on the back nine.'
The swing remained fine for James, but the flat stick stopped working.
At the par-4 16th, James three-putted for his first bogey of the tournament. One hole later, James three-putted from 40 feet for another bogey and suddenly, his once gigantic lead dwindled to one.
'I seemed to wake up in Loren Roberts' body this morning,' joked James, referring to Roberts' putting prowess. 'It was a nice feeling, but he left me on the 16th.'
Haas, who cruised to a five-shot win last year, bogeyed five, but three birdies in a four-hole span around the turn got him to 2-under par. He added birdies at 13 and 15 to get within one of the lead.
Purtzer, who won this year's AT&T Champions Classic, also birdied three out of four around the turn, but joined second place thanks to a 4-foot birdie putt at the closing hole.
Kite birdied the fourth, 11th and 12th holes then ran home a 4-footer at the l4th to join the group at minus-4.
Brad Bryant is alone in fifth place at 3-under-par 69, followed by Scott Simpson, Wayne Levi, Gil Morgan and Hale Irwin. That group is tied for sixth at minus-2.
Curtis Strange and Hubert Green, both elected to the Hall of Fame this week, Des Smyth, Morris Hatalsky, Dana Quigley and Roberts are knotted in 10th at 1-under-par 71.