A year ago, Hoffman hit a similar tee shot right and into the water, staring at a double-bogey, bogey slide on the final two holes of the tournament in which he lost a two-stroke lead and eventually the title.
This time, his drive stayed on the fairway. He finished with a par and then a birdie to complete a first-round 61, one shot off the course record.
"Believe it or not, I was thinking about it going down 16, 17, 18," he said. "If I could have just gotten those balls in play, I would have been defending champion here. But this year, I got off to a good start and obviously a little more focused on those last two holes. Hopefully I'm there again this year."
Hoffman said he thought he might have a chance to go even lower, and was flirting with 59 after making eagle on 10 and 12, and going to 8-under par with a birdie on 16.
"I knew I had some chances coming in," he said. "But when it's said and done, as I displayed last year, 16, 17 and 18 aren't an easy test. So I was just trying to make some pars coming in."
Hoffman, Mahan and Watson all have interesting histories in Connecticut.
Mahan is the 2007 champion and has two second-place finishes in his 11 previous starts at the TPC River Highlands.
"I think this is the most comfortable course on Tour for me," he said.