Spain’s Sergio Garcia waves to the gallery of fans after the 18th hole during the first round of the Masters on Thursday in Augusta. Garcia fired a bogey-free 66 and is tied for the lead at 6-under with Australian star Marc Leishman.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia waves to the gallery of fans after the 18th hole during the first round of the Masters on Thursday in Augusta. Garcia fired a bogey-free 66 and is tied for the lead at 6-under with Australian star Marc Leishman.

AUGUSTA — Last year, Sergio Garcia set himself up to be fit for the green jacket.

The talented Spaniard had just shot a 4-under 68 and was alone in third place heading into the weekend at the Masters. That day’s leader, 52-year-old Fred Couples, had just announced he had the energy and game remaining to win the major tournament as Garcia sat one stroke back of Couples and Jason Dufner.

“I don’t know if I am ready to win,” he said at the time before last year’s final round. “I’ll see. We’ll see. … I wish I could tell you I am ready to win, but I really don’t know. So, I’m just going to give it my best try, and, you know, hopefully that will be good.”

It wasn’t.

Garcia came out that Saturday, shot a 3-over 75 and finished out of the Top 10.

Fast forward another year and it’s another chance for Garcia, who — at 33 years old — still remains major-less.

Garcia shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday and joined Marc Leishman as the co-leader after the first day of the Masters. He hit 14 of 18 greens and didn’t bogey a hole. He scattered his six birdies over 15 holes, playing the first 10 at 5-under and three-putting just once.

“What I am going to try to take to my pillow (when I lay down to sleep) is the first 10 holes,” Garcia said. “I feel without a doubt it’s the best 10 holes I’ve played at the Masters.”

Gone from Garcia was last year’s defeatist attitude. Replacing it Thursday was a hint of optimism.

“Those were my words,” he said of last year’s comments. “We go through tough moments, and frustrated moments or frustrating moments, and I know it was one of them. I definitely kind of (shot) myself out the tournament last year, and that’s what I did on Saturday, so I wasn’t wrong there.

“(On Thursday), my best was pretty good, and I’m looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days. It will be really nice.”

After the first day, seven players are within two shots of Garcia and Leishman, while Tiger Woods sat four back at 2-under. Dustin Johnson is one back at 5-under after briefly matching the leaders before a bogey on No. 17. He chipped in for birdies on Nos. 1 and 9. A Columbia, S.C., native, Johnson hasn’t cracked the top-30 at the Masters in three tries and missed the tournament last year after injuring his back.

“I’ve played OK here in the past, just not great,” Johnson said, calling the Masters his favorite event. “Not playing last year and then coming back this year and getting a good round is really, really good.”

Behind Johnson lies a host of six players at 4-under, including Rickie Fowler, Trevor Immelman and Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar. Former Masters champion Zach Johnson sat at 3-under, while Phil Mickelson was at 1-under and defending champion and former UGA star Bubba Watson opened at 3-over.

“It’s golf, there are going to be good days and bad days,” said Watson, who had three three-putts. “I hit the ball really well. Nobody owns the jacket. Everybody is playing for it right now.”

Couples, at 53, rolled back the years as he carded a 68 as did Englishman David Lynn and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

One of the most impressive performances of the day came from 14-year-old Chinese Tianlang Guan, who rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt from just off the green at the last for a 73 — the best score among the six amateurs competing this week.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who squandered a four-shot overnight lead with a final-round 80 at the 2011 Masters, carded a 72.

Thirty-three players in the field of 93 ended the day under par after taking advantage of relatively calm conditions at the spiritual home of American golf known by many as the “Cathedral of Pines.”

Leishman, making only his second appearance at the Masters, rebounded from a bogey at the Par-4 first with seven birdies to set the early pace, making mockery of the belief that local knowledge is a prime factor here.


Information from Reuters News Service was used in this report