The 66-year-old Nelson, an Acworth native and North Cobb High School graduate who now lives in Marietta, had a 6-under 66 on Friday to join Russ Cochran and Mark Mouland atop the leaderboard at Prestonwood.
“I hit the ball really well, so I was really, really pleased,” said Nelson, who last won on the Champions Tour in 2004. “For the most part, I hit it close to the hole. I shot 29 on the front side and missed it inside of 8 feet twice.
“So you shoot 29, you know that things are happening because it wasn’t a fluke. I didn’t hole out any 7-irons, I just hit the ball close.”
Faldo withdrew after 12 holes because of an elbow injury. He tweaked a torn capsule in his left elbow when he made a gesture during a putt on No. 6. The six-time major champion was on the 13th tee at 1 over when he shook hands with playing partners Kenny Perry and Tom Kite and walked off the course.
“I really wanted to play. I was all geared up,” said Faldo, whose only other Champions Tour starts came in the Senior British Open. “I want to play good golf, but I can’t play with one arm.”
The 54-year-old Cochran, the 2010 winner, had an eagle and five birdies for a back-nine 30.
“To have a par 37 and shoot 7-under par on nine holes, you know you’re doing some good things,” Cochran said. “But the thing is this golf course, when people get it going, there are a lot of mid-irons, some short irons in there, and if you play good solid — the tougher holes — good solid golf, then there’s some birdie opportunities out there.”
Defending champion Bernhard Langer was a stroke back along with Kirk Triplett, Mike Goodes, Michael Allen and David Frost. Triplett is coming off a successful title defense two weeks ago in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
Perry opened with a 68. The Charles Schwab Cup points leader, Perry won the Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open in consecutive tour starts this summer. He won the 2011 event for his first Champions Tour title.