AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Sergio Garcia is still chasing that first major title.
It never figured to come at Augusta National.
But there he was Thursday, after a bogey-free opening round, sharing the top spot on the leaderboard at the Masters.
“Obviously, this is not my most favorite place,” Garcia said, trying to be diplomatic. “But we try to enjoy it as much as we can every time we come here. Sometimes it comes out better than others. Today was one of those good days. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.”
Garcia’s 6-under 66 tied him with Aussie Marc Leishman, on a cloudy day that was made for going low. There wasn’t much wind until late in the afternoon, when a storm front approached Augusta. There wasn’t a blistering sun to bake out the greens, which were receptive to accurate shots.
The Spaniard took advantage, rekindling memories of the teen phenom known as “El Nino,” who seemed certain to win numerous major titles after he battled with Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship, losing by a single stroke.
Garcia has challenged in other majors, but rarely at the Masters _ a course that doesn’t seem to fit his style or shaky putter. In 14 previous appearances at Augusta National, he has finished in the top 10 only twice.
Last year, after a dismal third round took him out of contention, he bluntly conceded that he didn’t think he was capable of winning a major.
Obviously, he feels different now _ though there’s still some trepidation in his voice about what’s still to come.
“Every time I tee off in a tournament, the goal is to play the best I can and have a chance at winning. That doesn’t change this week,” Garcia said. “Today was a nice day, one of those days you really enjoy. Hopefully I’ll have three more of those and we’ll see what happens on Sunday night.”
With all eyes on Tiger Woods, the overwhelming favorite, plenty of others stood out amid the azaleas and towering Georgia pines.
There was Leishman, who had played two whole rounds at Augusta National.
There was David Lynn, a Masters rookie who was just two strokes back.
Lynn was the early clubhouse leader, then Leishman surged to the front with four straight birdies on the back side starting at No. 13. The Australian sure didn’t play like someone who had missed the cut in his only other Masters appearance, in 2010.
“The first time I was here,” Leishman recalled, “I was like a bit of a deer in headlights, I guess. I found myself looking around a little bit too much and not concentrating on getting the ball in the hole.”