Woods has not qualified for the PGA Tour’s season-ending event at East Lake since 2013, but he clearly enjoyed being back among the elite 30-player field as he recovered from an opening bogey to power to the top of the leaderboard.
After Fowler had returned his fourth 65 in his last five rounds to set the clubhouse target on five-under par, he soon had company when Woods rolled in a thrilling eagle putt at the last from close to 30 feet to cap an inward 31.
New world No 1 Justin Rose birdied the final two holes for a 66 to grab pole position in the race for the FedExCup title as Bryson DeChambeau laboured to a 71, while 2016 champion Rory McIlroy made seven birdies in a 67, although he rued three mistakes which blotted his card after he birdied four of the first six holes.
But the headlines were dominated by Woods after he initially struggled with the fast pace of the greens, taking three putts to get down from 25 feet at the first before scrambling pars over the next three holes.
The 42-year-old began his charge up the leaderboard with back-to-back birdies at five and six, although he had to wait until the 12th for his next gain as he converted a precise wedge to four feet.
Woods did well to save par from seven feet at 13 before holing from similar range for birdie at the next, and he thrilled the vast galleries surrounding the final hole when he drilled a 250-yard five-wood to the heart of the green and nailed the tricky left-to-right putt.
His grandstand finish lifted him level with Fowler, who mixed six birdies with a lone dropped shot in his impressive opener, while Rose got to within one of the lead with the final putt of the day.
In his first competitive round since dethroning Dustin Johnson at the top of the world rankings at the BMW Championship, Rose offset a birdie at the fourth with a three-putt bogey at the next, but he reeled off three birdies in a row from the eighth to get to three under.
Rose erred again on the 15th green as he needed three jabs to get down from almost 60 feet, but he rebounded with a 20-footer for a three at 17 before a good up-and-down from the right greenside bunker at the last hauled his alongside Gary Woodland on four under.
McIlroy got off to a flying start and enjoyed the outright lead when he rolled in his fourth birdie putt of the day as early as the sixth hole, although he soon gave a shot back at the eighth when his approach from the rough came up short and he chunked his chip.
He did well to save par after a poor tee shot to the ninth before coming within inches of spinning his second shot to the 10th back into the hole for eagle, but McIlroy then took two steps back when he made a mess of the 12th.
The 29-year-old bunkered his drive and found further sand with his second before his long-range splash-out sailed 35 feet past the pin, from where he three-putted for a double-bogey six.
McIlroy repaired some of the damage with a sublime approach to five feet at the tough 14th only to drop another shot at 17, but he closed with an excellent sand-save at the last for his seventh birdie of the round as he finished the day two behind.
He shares fifth with Ryder Cup foes Tony Finau and Justin Thomas, who staged a spirited recovery from a bogey-bogey start, while Paul Casey (68), Jon Rahm (68) and Tommy Fleetwood provided further good news for European captain Thomas Bjorn with solid opening rounds.
DeChambeau arrived in Atlanta ranked top of the FedExCup standings after his wins at The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, but he stumbled to a pair of double-bogeys in a torrid front-nine 39 to be four over at the turn.
But the American battled back on the inward half, making a birdie at 10 and two more over the last three holes to claw his way back to one-over par, although he still has much work to do to reel in Rose.