Tied for the lead with fellow Americans Mark Wilson and Nick Watney when the opening round was completed at the Kapalua Resort earlier in the day, Johnson fired a sizzling seven-under-par 66 to surge three strokes in front of the pack.
Making the most of his prodigious length off the tee in breezy conditions, Johnson birdied the first three par-fives on the Plantation Course before eagling the last of them, the 18th, to post an 11-under total of 135.
His only blemish of the round came at the par-four 17th where he bogeyed the hole after running out of fairway off the tee after hitting a drive that was simply too good.
Defending champion Steve Stricker, who battled pain down his left side all day, was alone in second after carding a 67 with Masters champion Bubba Watson a further stroke back at seven under after a 69.
Reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker (70) and fellow American Keegan Bradley (69) were tied for fourth at six under in the winners-only field of 30.
"I hit the ball really well this afternoon," a smiling Johnson told reporters after coolly sinking a five-foot eagle putt on the 18th green in an event cut to 54 holes. "I'm pretty pleased with my play so far.
"It's been a long day, but I played really good from start to finish. I hit a lot of greens. I maybe missed three greens all day.
"I did everything pretty well ... drove it well, chipped it well, hit my irons good," added Johnson, who had opened with a 69 earlier in the day and twice drove the green on par-four holes.
"To shoot the score I did today, you've got to do everything well, other than my couple of three-putts."
The elite field of champions from last year's PGA Tour completed 36 holes on a marathon Monday at Kapalua after play had been abandoned on the previous three days because of strong gusting winds.
Scheduled to finish on Monday had the bad weather not intervened, the Tour's season-opener will instead conclude with a rare Tuesday finish.
Stricker won last year's title by three shots but for much of Monday he was unsure if he could finish after first experiencing shooting pains down his left leg a month ago.
"Nobody knows if it's a muscle with pressure on the sciatic nerve or if there's a problem with a disk," the 45-year-old American said. "I didn't have any expectations today. I didn't know if I was even going to finish 36 holes.
"I told one of the rules officials that I didn't know if I was going to be able to make it all the way around. Fortunately it didn't get any worse and that was the best part ... it just stayed the same all day."
Stricker, who holed out from 65 yards to eagle the par-five 18th in the second round after teeing off at the 10th, accepted the season-opening tournament was Johnson's to lose.
"He's such a good player and he's got length on his side and he's got a lot of talent," Stricker said. "It's going to be tough to make up three shots on him here. I wish I was feeling 100 percent."
Another good omen for Johnson is the fact that he won the last two events on the PGA Tour cut to 54 holes - the 2009 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and The Barclays in 2011.
"I just happened to win those two events," he said. "I've still got 18 more holes of golf. It wouldn't matter if it was 72 holes or 54.
"Tomorrow is still the last round and there's 18 holes to play, so got to get the job done."
- Sports & Recreation
- Steve Stricker