Garcia, Leishman shoot 66 for Masters lead
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia might have written himself off too quickly at the Masters.
When last seen walking off the course at Augusta National, the impetuous Spaniard was moping about his bad luck at this tournament and said last year it was increasingly evident he would never be fitted for a green jacket.
Garcia matched his best score at the Masters on Thursday, a 6-under 66 with no bogeys on his card, to share the lead with Marc Leishman of Australia. And he still wasn't entirely happy, although this time with good reason. He hit the ball so well his score could have been so much better.
“To tell you the truth, if I manage to make a couple of the putts that kind of stayed around the lip, I could have been probably 7- or 8-under par through 10,” Garcia said. “It was that good.”
It sure felt easy for several players in a gentle opening round — even for an eighth-grader.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China and youngest to compete in a major in 148 years, played well beyond his age and holed a 15-foot putt from just off the 18th green for a respectable round of 73.
Tiger Woods wasn't far off as he began his quest for a fifth green jacket. Wild at the start, including a tee shot that knocked a cup of beer out of a spectator's hand, Woods settled into a groove and opened with a 70 as his girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, watched on a few holes.
In his four Masters wins, Woods has never opened with a score lower than 70. His key is not to shoot himself out of the tournament.
“It's a good start,” he said. “Some years, some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now, I'm only four back and I'm right there.”
Garcia and Leishman had a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.
Fred Couples, the 53-year-old wonder at his favorite major, made bogey on the 18th and still was in the large group at 68. There were a dozen rounds in the 60s, and nearly half the field shot par or better. Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson recovered from a rough start by running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to salvage a 71, while Rory McIlroy had a 72.
Woods said he struggled with the slower pace of the greens, and so did defending champion Bubba Watson, who opened with a 75.
It's not about respect for Garcia. Augusta National is the ultimate love-hate relationship, and Thursday was a rarity. He loved it.
“It's obviously not my most favorite place,” he said. “But you know, we try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.”
Garcia struggled off the tee on the back nine, and he three-putted for par at the 13th. He also made tough par saves on the 11th and 17th for his first bogey-free round at the Masters since 2002.
“The last eight holes mean a lot that I kept my composure, even though I didn't hit it as well as I did the first 10 holes,” he said.
Garcia doesn't regret his comments at Augusta last year, only that he didn't choose his words carefully. He chalked it up to frustration, but said he is trying just as hard as when he was 19 and challenged Woods at Medinah in the 1999 PGA.
“Every time I tee it off, I try to play as well as I can, hope that my best that week is really, really good,” Garcia said. “And if I manage to do that, I will have a chance at winning. If my best is not that good, then, I'll struggle a little bit. Today, my best was pretty good. And I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days.”
Woods has higher goals. He has gone five years without winning a major, and his last Masters title was in 2005. With three PGA Tour wins and the No. 1 ranking, he is the overwhelming favorite this week.
He picked up birdies on a pair of the par 5s, and made a short birdie putt on the sixth hole. The greens befuddled him, though, and it hurt him toward the end of the round. Woods missed a 6-foot par putt on the 14th, a 5-foot birdie putt on the 15th and a 12-foot birdie attempt on the 17th.
“The biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens,” Woods said. “They just weren't quite there.”