Lee, fresh off a runner-up finish in Puerto Rico last Sunday that earned him a spot in the event this week, picked up where he left off in the Caribbean to join Americans Matt Avery and Pat Perez, and Australian Greg Chalmers, on three-under-par 68 on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor.
Only Avery of the leaders played in the morning, when chilly temperatures and a biting northerly wind made birdies hard to come by.
"This morning you couldn't feel your hands," Avery said after closing with three birdies in his final four holes.
"The wind was so brutal. I hit it pretty solid all day, stayed patient and rolled in a few putts. I would have been satisfied with two over today. It was a good day."
Only seven of the 25 competitors under par played in the morning.
"I knew it was going to be brutal this morning. We got lucky with the later tee time, the warmest part of the day," said Perez, who teed off at 12.30pm.
"We got some good weather and I was able to take advantage of some of the harder holes."
Lee, who played in the final group, got to four-under before falling back into a tie for the lead with a bogey at his 15th hole, the lone blemish on his card.
South Korean-born Lee was widely considered a 'sure thing' after becoming the youngest player to win the US Amateur Championship at 18. He also beat a strong professional field to win the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in 2009.
But after a promising start to his professional career, Lee faltered and it was not until the Puerto Rico Open last week that the 23-year-old finally threatened to win a US PGA Tour event.
Big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, among a large group one stroke from the lead, had no complaints about the conditions.
"I like these tough courses, tough conditions, where you have to create shots all the time," he said. "I played really good all day."
Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open champion, started well before a double bogey at the 12th halted his run. The Northern Irishman, who has slumped to 295th in the world, finished at even par.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pat Perez