Former world number one Martin Kaymer said on Wednesday eight over par would represent a good score after four rounds at the US Open, but the 29-year-old German will go into Friday's second round at Pinehurst on five under.
Kaymer's superb opening 65 contained six birdies and just one bogey, and he is well poised to add a second major to the US PGA title he collected in August 2010.
The man who ensured Europe would retain the Ryder Cup after the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 reproduced the form he displayed at Sawgrass on Thursday, his 65 beating the previous lowest score in a US Open at Pinehurst of 66 by Peter Hedblom in 2005.
"When you win the Players it's pretty much as if you have won a major, the way the field is," said Kaymer, who equalled the course record with an opening 63 at Sawgrass.
"I needed a win, whether it was the Players or a PGA Tour event for my confidence, to feel it's worth it for all the hard work I have put in over the last couple of years. That was a nice, huge win and coming into the US Open and the next few weeks with big events it's nice if you've just won before. I'm very happy.
"I got asked what score I would take for the whole week and I said eight over par, so hopefully that's not going to happen. The course played more difficult on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - they must have put more water on the greens last night.
"It's an exceptional score and very nice to lead the tournament, but I was very surprised the course played fairly soft."
Until Kaymer's late surge - he birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th - Graeme McDowell's early 68 looked set to give him a share of the clubhouse lead alongside Americans Kevin Na and Fran Quinn and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge.
And, after watching the 2010 champion plot his way around the course, playing partner Rory McIlroy backed his fellow Northern Irishman to challenge for a second major title.
"G-Mac didn't start the best but made that eagle on the fifth," said McIlroy, who returned a 71. "He gets the most out of it and misses it in the right places, has a really good short game, holes big momentum putts to keep his run going.
"This is his ideal sort of tournament, grinding it out, and the winning score not being too much under par. He knows how to do that well."