AUGUSTA, Ga. (Sports Network) – Sergio Garcia joined Marc Leishman in the lead at 6-under 66 after Thursday’s first round of the 77th Masters.
Garcia has won an event in four of the last five years on either the PGA or European Tour, but is on the short list of best players without a major championship victory. His best finish at Augusta National was back in 2002, when he took eighth.
“We all know it was one of those moments where you feel a little frustrated. I felt like I did shoot myself out of that tournament last year, so it probably came out wrong that way I said it, but I know what I meant,” Garcia responded when asked about his comments last year whether he could win here. “It doesn’t change that every week I tee it up, I try to play my best golf and try to give myself a chance at winning.”
Leishman, who won the Travelers Championship last year to get into the field, is making his second start at Augusta National and it is initially proving to be a far better start than his first one.
In his first appearance at the Masters, Leishman shot 72-79 and missed the cut by five strokes.
Dustin Johnson stumbled to a bogey on the 17th to slide one back. The seven- time PGA Tour winner is alone in third place at minus-5.
Former Masters champions Fred Couples and Trevor Immelman both carded 4-under 68s on Thursday. They were joined in fourth place by David Lynn, Rickie Fowler, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Matt Kuchar.
Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, and 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson are tied for 10th at minus-3. They stand alongside Adam Scott.
Four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods had a 2-under 70. Among those at minus-2 are Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Jason Day.
Defending champion Bubba Watson struggled to a 3-over 75, which left him tied for 64th with Stewart Cink and Henrik Stenson.
Reigning British Open champ Ernie Els opened with a 1-under 71, while PGA Champion Rory McIlroy shot 72 and U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson had a 73.
Ian Poulter (76), Hunter Mahan (76), Padraig Harrington (78) and Nick Watney (78) all struggled in the first round.
Tianlang Guan, 14, opened with a 1-over 73, which left him tied for 46th. He had five bogeys and four birdies in his round, and he has a 3-stroke lead in the low amateur race.
“After a great first tee shot, I felt more comfortable,” Guan stated. “I just want to enjoy the tournament and hit some good shots.”
Garcia got off to a quick start with birdies on one and three. After a couple of pars, he dropped in another birdie effort at the sixth, where his tee shot to the par-3 stopped 15 feet from the hole.
The Spaniard converted back-to-back birdie chances at the ninth and 10th. That got him within one of the lead.
Garcia then cruised to four straight pars. At the par-5 15th, he rolled in an 8-footer for birdie and a share of the lead. Garcia capped his round with a trio of pars.
“I felt so good. I hit so many amazing shots. Even though I was hitting long irons a lot, it felt like I was 10 or 15 feet away all the time, and that’s hard to do on this golf course,” Garcia stated. “I missed a couple tee shots here and there and had to scramble a little. I made a great birdie on 15 and a good par save on 17.”
Leishman opened with a bogey on the first. He erased that mistake with a birdie on the par-4 third. He birdied the eighth to make the turn at minus-1.
The Australian added another birdie with a 25-foot putt on the 10th. After a pair of pars, Leishman caught fire.
He birdied the par-5 13th and followed with another on the 14th, where his approach shot stopped three feet from the hole. Leishman also birdied the par-5 15th and converted his fourth consecutive birdie at the 16th as he poured in a long putt. He parred out to end at 6-under.
“To be here is awesome, and to be sitting here is pretty cool. It’s only Thursday afternoon, so there’s a lot of golf to play, but I feel good about my game,” Leishman stated. “I never really got ahead of myself, because I know that this course can bite you pretty quickly. If you miss it in the wrong spot, you can easily have a bogey, and then double is pretty easy to come by around here.”
Woods tied for 40th last year and that was his worst finish as a pro at Augusta National. He ran off five straight pars to open his round. Woods got on the board with a 4-foot birdie putt at the sixth.
The three-time winner this year got up and down for birdie on the eighth to move to minus-2. He parred four in a row around the turn. Woods notched the third birdie of his round at 13, where he 2-putted from some 60 feet out.
At the 14th, Woods stumbled to the lone bogey of his round. He had some birdie chances coming in, but was unable to convert. Woods parred the last four holes to finish four off the pace after one round.
“I played solid today and got a good round out of it,” Woods stated. “I felt like I putted well today. I left myself some pretty good little par saves and I was able to make those. You continue hitting greens and continue putting the ball in the right spots. I didn’t leave myself the easiest of putts today.”
Watson, who has just five top-10 finishes since winning at Augusta National last year, failed to get anything going on Thursday as he traded a bogey for a birdie from the first. Watson later tripped to bogeys on the fifth and seventh to dip to 2-over par.
After six consecutive pars from the eighth, Watson faltered to another bogey at the 14th. He closed with four pars in a row to end at plus-3. Watson was done in by his putter, as he needed 35 putts to complete his first round.
Since 2000, Tiger Woods is the only repeat winner. while Watson’s fellow lefty, Mike Weir (2003), is the only champion to miss the cut in his title defense.
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