ATLANTA — What was shaping up as a record round Thursday at East Lake suddenly was in peril as Bart Bryant planted his feet on the grassy mound of a bunker and chipped awkwardly to the hole.
He would have been happy to get it within 10 feet. Imagine how he felt when his shot hit the pin, rattled the cup and settled a few feet away.
"My caddie and I looked at each other and said, 'This is your day,' " Bryant said.
The career grinder and late bloomer must be starting to think this is his year.
Bryant was nearly flawless Thursday in the Tour Championship, making an auspicious debut by setting the course record with an 8-under 62 to take a two-shot lead over defending champion Retief Goosen.
He was the only player in the 29-man field without a bogey on his card. He missed only two greens and two fairways. Caught between clubs on the par-5 15th, he went with a hybrid and knocked it within 6 feet for an eagle.
Maybe now the 42-year-old Bryant will start believing he belongs with the best.
"I'm working on it," said Bryant, who didn't win until the Texas Open last year and added a validation victory at the Memorial in early June. "People try to pound it in my head, 'You belong, you belong.' If I go out and shoot three more 62s, maybe I'll believe it."
Kenny Perry bogeyed the last two holes for a 65, while Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia were at 66.
Woods was at 5 under through eight holes and was poised to shoot 29 on the front until failing to convert an easy up-and-down for birdie from the bunker. He struggled the rest of the way but had few complaints.
Bryant had nothing to complain about, either. He wound up breaking by one shot the East Lake record set by Vijay Singh in the first round of the 1998 Tour Championship.
Goosen made eight birdies in a round of 64, the same score he shot on the last day a year ago to win the Tour Championship. This time, it wasn't even good enough for the lead.
"I had a funny feeling somebody would shoot low around here ... if the weather stayed the way it was," Goosen said.
Not many would have guessed it would come from a player who had never seen East Lake until this week.
"What a round of golf that is," Charles Howell III said after a 67. "I saw him at 8 under and thought he was playing a scramble with Ted Purdy."
Twelve out of the 29 players at East Lake broke par, a tribute to a gorgeous afternoon with hardly any wind, and a course that is playing firm and fast.
Even so, Bryant's score got everyone's attention.
"I wasn't expecting 8 under," Davis Love III said after a 68. "I wasn't expecting 6 under."
Bryant's expectations keep getting higher, although it wasn't always that way. There were times he would lie awake and wonder if his journey through the smaller tours and too many trips to Q-school were a sign that maybe he should find another job.
It started to turn around when his swing coach, Brian Mogg, showed him six years of statistics and asked Bryant if they belonged to a guy who should be doing well on the PGA Tour. Bryant agreed.
"It was me," he said. "I think I finally started buying into the belief that maybe I belonged out here, and I certainly wasn't going to chicken out anymore. I was going to put my neck on the line, and try to get in the lead. And if I failed, so what? I'm just too old to care about it anymore."
But he cares about being at the Tour Championship, one of the sweetest rewards for all his travails. Bryant had never finished higher than 80th on the money list until this year.
He won the Texas Open last year, although it was played opposite the Ryder Cup. He backed it up with a solid victory at Muirfield Village, where he made par from a hazard on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory at the Memorial. Bryant arrived at East Lake at No. 22 on the money list with just over $2 million.
"From where we've been to where we are now, maybe kind of through the school of hard knocks, maybe we appreciate it a little bit more," he said.
Woods, who needs a victory this week to become the first $11 million man in golf, was all over the place. He started out as if he would be the one to break the East Lake record, firing at flags from the fairway and hitting great shots when he wound up in the rough.
What hurt him was the sand.
He missed the simple up-and-down on the ninth, blasted out too far on the 10th and made bogey, and lost another chance at birdie with a poor bunker shot on the par-5 15th.
"There's so much sand in these bunkers, you have to put a lot of speed on the ball," he said. "And I didn't."
Bryant didn't have too much trouble, and got a few breaks when he did miss a shot. He sent his tee shot in the right rough on the 16th and expected the worst, only to see his ball sitting up nicely in the grass.
The biggest break came on the 17th with a chip he didn't think he could get close.
"I could have bogeyed those two holes," Bryant said. "Other than that, I played extremely solid."