The way Don Pooley played, you would have thought he designed the course.

Pooley shot an 8-under-par 64 Thursday to grab a 2-shot lead after the opening round of the BellSouth Classic, being played for the first time at the new TPC Sugarloaf Country Club.Greg Norman designed the picturesque, 7,259-yard course, which meanders through the rolling hills of a former horse farm north of Atlanta. But Pooley mastered it the first time out.

"I was around the hole all day," Pooley said. "There isn't a golf course that looks too hard when you hit all the fairways and then putt the ball well."

Five golfers, including Nick Price and former Georgia Tech golfer David Duval, were two shots off the pace, while Norman settled for a 2-under 70 after bogeying the final two holes.

Pooley, the top putter on the PGA Tour, put together a nearly perfect round, with eight birdies and 10 pars. Starting on the back nine, he holed a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 11, chipped within a foot of the cup for another birdie at 13, then took two more shots off his score by making 15-footers at 14 and 17.

On the front nine, he started off with birdies from 12 and 15 feet before his putter finally let him down. He missed a 6-footer at No. 3 and settled for par.

But Pooley bounced back with birdies at the two par-5s. He reached the green in two on the 541-yard fourth hole and two-putted, then lipped out a wedge from the bunker on 6 and tapped in for the birdie.

"It was a great round," said Pooley, who missed only one green. "Every facet of the game was there."

The conditions were optimum for those golfers who teed off in the morning, with soft greens and hardly any wind. The breeze picked up considerably in the afternoon after Pooley took the course, but he still managed one brilliant shot after another.

"I'm not a long hitter, so I like this course because you must position yourself," he said. "But teeing off, I didn't think the afternoon would have the lower score. I was surprised."

Pooley, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, leads the tour in average putts per round (27.67), and the rest of his game is catching up. He has made the cut in every tournament this year, with two fifth-place finishes.

"I've always been a good putter, and it's there now," said Pooley, who underwent neck surgery in 1992 and back surgery the following year. "My problem was I was not swinging it well. Now I'm swinging like I did in 1987. The game's fun again."

Pooley's last victory came a decade ago in the Memorial. His only other tour victory was the 1980 B.C. Open.

Price's most recent victory was just three weeks ago at the MCI Classic in Hilton Head, S.C. He took a break the last two weekends, but his game hardly suffered from the layoff.