Anirban Lahiri made a modest start at the Quicken Loans National with an even par 71 while Arjun Atwal shot one-under 70 after the Tiger Woods' annual event started two hours late because of rain.
Jon Rahm, who is making his professional debut this week, took the lead at seven-under 64 at the Congressional, which because of rain was soft and allowed aggressive play.
Rahm, the 21-year-old Spaniard, was the only amateur to make the cut last week in the US Open, tying for 23rd at Oakmont. The long-hitting Rahm had a one-stroke lead over Jhonattan Vegas and a two-stroke advantage over a pack that included Els, who won the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional.
Rahm was also Tied-fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year.
"I was struggling a bit with a few niggles in the wrist and shoulder. Eighteen weeks of golf in the first six months is not something I'm used to. The workload seems to be catching up with me," Lahiri said.
"The start was poor with two bogeys, both on par-fives on front nine. Also, it was another bad day on and around the greens. I will look to hole a few putts early in the round to get the momentum going."
For Atwal, still the only Indian to have won on the PGA Tour, this is only the third start of the 2015-16 season. He missed the cut at the Sanderson Farms Championships, but made the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
At the top of the leaderboard Rahm confessed he was "kind of blacked out" and couldn't remember a single shot he took in his professional debut to remember but Ernie Els recalled shots he hit on the same course 19 years ago.
Els, who turned pro five years before Rahm was born, chose to play the Quicken Loans immediately after missing the cut at the US Open because of how much he likes the course. He has the same caddie, Ricci Roberts, who was on his bag back in 1997, and Thursday was full of useful memories.
"Winning a major at a special place like Congressional, playing here again, you just keep thinking back on shots," the 46-year-old Els said. "Almost every single hole there's a moment back in '97 where we can remember still."
The 7,569-yard course, which last hosted the US Open in 2011 when Rory McIlroy won it running away, could play even longer once it dries out by the weekend.