There was a four way tie at three under after the morning starters had finished at Kiawah Island and in typically windy conditions, it looked like we would have a leading logjam in the second Major Championship of the 2021 Race to Dubai.
But Conners had other ideas and he carded six birdies and a single bogey to get to five under, two clear of England's Sam Horsfield, Norwegian Viktor Hovland, former champions Keegan Bradley and Brooks Koepka, another American in Aaron Wise and Australian Cameron Davis.
Conners has yet to tee it up on the European Tour in a regular event but has been making headlines at Augusta National with top tens in the Masters Tournament in the past two seasons.
He has a single professional victory at the Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour but the World Number 39 would take his career to the next level with a win this week.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to play against the best players in the world and put my game to the test," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in my game and I'm excited for the rest of the weekend.
"Didn't try to force it to happen but definitely saw myself having a good day today and hopefully can keep that up the rest of the weekend.
"I'd say it's impossible to be stress free around this golf course. You can't fall asleep out there on any holes. It's very challenging.
"I was fortunate to have a good day. Made it as least stressful as possible on myself.
I have a lot of confidence in my game and I'm excited for the rest of the weekend
"I hit a lot of really good shots and holed some nice putts early in the round and that really helped boost the confidence."
A 30 footer on the second set the tone for Conners and he holed from similar distance on the fifth before getting up and down on the par five seventh to join the lead.
A bogey at the ninth saw him fall back but he got up and down again at the par five 11th, holed a 50 footer from off the green at the 15th to lead on his own and hit a stunning second to four feet at the 16th to establish a cushion.
Earlier, Hovland took advantage of the par five 11th, 16th and second but dropped a shot on the first before a tee shot to 11 feet on the par three eighth put him in the lead.
Horsfield also made the most of the par fives on the back nine, while holing a long putt on the 14th and dropping a shot on the 13th. He made another bogey on the fourth but back to back gains on the sixth and seventh moved him to three under.
Koepka recovered from an opening double bogey with six birdies, while Wise made six birdies and three bogeys.
Bradley had four birdies and a single a bogey, a serene effort compared to Davis' round which contained a triple bogey, an eagle and four birdies.
Defending champion Collin Morikawa was at two under alongside fellow Americans Phil Mickelson, Kevin Streelman, Cameron Tringale and Gary Wodland, South African Branden Grace, South Korean Sungjae Im and Scot Martin Laird.