(Reuters) - American journeyman Scott Brown stole the limelight from some of golf's biggest names as he recovered from a shaky start to charge into a share of the lead at the Farmers Insurance Open outside San Diego on Thursday.
While defending champion Jason Day struggled after the turn to card a level-par 72 in the opening round at Torrey Pines and world number four Rickie Fowler carded a 73, Brown reeled off eight birdies in his last 11 holes to fire a 66.
Despite playing on the more difficult South Course, Brown caught fire over his closing stretch after making two bogeys in the first six holes to end the day level with fellow American Andrew Loupe, who set out on the easier North layout.
"I knew I was hitting it good," Brown, 32, told Golf Channel about his mindset after his stumbling start. "I was hitting good shots, I just made a couple of stupid bogeys.
"I hit a ball in the hazard and made bogey on a par-five but I really hit some close iron shots and fortunately made some putts. And it turned into me birdieing eight of my last 11 (holes,) so that was nice."
Brown, whose only PGA Tour victory came at the 2013 Puerto Rico Open, planned to maintain a strategy of attack on the North Course for Friday's second round.
"The rough is still high over there and thick and you've still got to drive it good to get yourself into position," he said. "But you can make a few more birdies over there so I'll just try to keep the aggressive mind-set."
Americans Billy Horschel, Patton Kizzire, Tom Hoge, Rob Oppenheim and Harold Varner III all opened with 67s on the North Course while three-times champion Phil Mickelson rebounded from a double-bogey on his second hole to card a 69 on the South.
"I really didn't feel the stress," Mickelson, who tied for third at last week's CareerBuilder Challenge in his first event of the season, said of his stumbling start on Thursday. "I knew that I had been playing so well.
"I tried to be patient ... and the round just slowly progressed. I just kept hitting good shots. I hit a lot more good shots on the back and had a few tap-in birdies. It was a good start."
American Fowler, who won the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday, said of his 73: "Terrible. I think that sums it up pretty easily. It was just bad golf. I couldn't get anything going."
Australian world number two Day, who withdrew from the pro-am competition on Wednesday because of flu-like symptoms, looked fatigued throughout his opening round and declined to speak to reporters afterwards as he returned to his hotel room to rest.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)