Defending champion Hale Irwin, who is making his first start since pulling out of the U.S. Open, opened his title defense with a 4-under 68 to share fourth place with Mike Smith, Wayne Levi, David Eger and Bob Murphy.
Thorpe, who won last year's Tradition, couldn't get anything going on the front nine Friday. He missed a 15-foot birdie try at three, a four-footer at the sixth and 10-foot birdie opportunity at seven. He finally capitalized at No. 9 when he sank a 10-foot birdie putt.
Thorpe knocked a wedge to a foot for a kick-in birdie at the 10th and added another birdie at the par-5 12th. He dropped a shot at No. 14 when his approach landed in a bunker and Thorpe blasted out to five feet. He missed the par save to fall to 2-under for his round.
At the par-4 16th, Thorpe ran home a 15-foot birdie putt to go to minus-3 but at the par-5 last, Thorpe played a 4-iron to five feet for an eagle and a share of the lead.
'The golf course is in perfect condition,' said Thorpe, a five-time winner on the Champions Tour. 'The greens were a little faster yesterday but were a little difficult to read. The officials did a good job setting up the course today. They gave us a chance to play.'
Hatalsky, who won this year's Columbus Southern Open, also failed to make a charge on the front nine. He mixed a pair of birdies and one bogey to make the turn at one-under but better things awaited at the start of the second nine.
At the 10th, Hatalsky drained a seven-footer for birdie and followed with a pair of 12-footers to make it three in a row. He parred the 13th but reeled off two consecutive birdies at 14 and 15 to reach 6-under par and take sole possession of first place.
Hatalsky dropped from the perch at the par-5 closing hole when he tried to reach the putting surface in two but instead dropped his 4-wood approach in water. He bogeyed the hole and fell into a share of the opening-round lead.
'I never wanted it to end like it did,' said Hatalsky. 'I hit the wrong club at No. 18. I should have hit a 3-wood. It got good height but it got in the wind and took it into the water.'
McGee, 60, took a different route to the top than his co-leaders. He tallied three birdies in his first five holes before a dropped shot at the ninth when he landed in the rough.
He holed a 15-foot birdie putt at 10 and drained a 25-footer for birdie two holes later. McGee once again drove into the rough and paid for it with a bogey at 14 but he birdied 16 and 17 to earn a share of the first-round lead for the first time since the 1995 Senior Players Championship.
'Today's round meant I shot a good round today,' said McGee. 'We have 54 holes to play this week. I need to make some money in the next 10 weeks or I'll be off this tour.'
Ben Crenshaw, Scott Masingill, Hugh Baiocchi, Leonard Thompson and Tom Purtzer share ninth place after opening with rounds of 3-under-par 69.