In only this third PGA Tour start this season, Atwal, who got a late entry into the John Deere Classic, was two-over for the front nine, before four birdies pulled him back to two-under at the TPC Deere Run here.
He had missed the cut at Sanderson Farms and Corales Puntacana earlier in the season.
His playing partner and friend, Daniel Chopra, shot one-over 72 with three birdies and four bogeys.
Steve Wheatcroft, who is way down in the FedExCup standings at beyond 200, was three-under through first 12 holes and then ran off six straight birdies to finish his opening-round at nine-under 62.
Early starters had a soft course, and almost no wind.
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