Two Share Lead in Masters


Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman both fired 6-under 66s to tie for the opening-round lead in the Masters Tournament. The first major of the year began Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

Leishman, a 29-year-old Australian who won the 2012 Travelers Championship for his first and, so far, only PGA Tour title, opened with a bogey on the par-4 first hole but then was flawless the rest of the way, carding seven birdies, including four straight on Nos. 13-16.

He's making his second appearance in the Masters; in his first, in 2010, Leishman missed the cut. "The first time I was here," Leishman said, "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."

Despite his encouraging start, Leishman knows there's a long way to go. "To be sitting here is pretty cool," he added. "But it's only Thursday afternoon, so a lot of golf to play."

Playing in his 15th Masters, Garcia, whose best finish at Augusta National was a tie for fourth in 2004, carded three birdies on the front and three more on the back. His only other bogey-free round came in 2002, when he finished eighth; Garcia has only two top-10 finishes in the Masters.

Garcia owed his first-round performance to good scrambling. "It felt like I was 10 to 15 feet away (from the cup) all the time. I missed tee shots here and there, but had some good saves," he said to a TV reporter.

The 33-year Spaniard is still seeking his first major and, despite his fine outing, knows there's a lot of golf left to play. "Every week I tee it up I try to play my best golf . . . it's only the first round."

Alone in third after a 67 is Dustin Johnson, who posted four birdies, an eagle on the par-5 13th and a bogey on the 17th for his 5-under effort. The lanky, long-hitting South Carolinian is often regarded as a player whose game matches the skills needed to excel at Augusta National, and he was pleased with his start. "I hit a lot of good shots, chipped and putted well," he said during a TV interview. "Around here, leaving it on the right side of the hole is important. I putted really well; didn't have a three-putt."

Tied for fourth with 68s are England's David Lynn, Rickie Fowler, Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa, 1992 Masters winner Fred Couples and Matt Kuchar.

Couples is playing in his 29th Masters. The 53-year-old native of Seattle said Augusta National is his favorite course in the world, and it shows as he's recorded 11 top-10 finishes over the years. He tied for 12th last year.

"I just love the place," Couples said on TV. As for his round Thursday, which included six birdies and a couple bogeys, he noted, "I just seemed to get on a roll. If I can drive the ball well, I can do well here."

Jim Furyk, Australia's Adam Scott and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson share 10th after 69s. Ten players posted 2-under 70s, including Tiger Woods. The owner of four green jackets has already recorded three wins this season, ascended to the No. 1 ranking in golf, and was the odds-on favorite before the tournament.

After starting with five straight pars, Woods birdied the par-3 sixth and par-5 eighth to make the turn in 2-under 34. On the home half, however, he could only muster a birdie and a bogey.

Though he's four back of the two leaders, Woods was happy with how his Thursday went. "Some years some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now I'm only four back and I'm right there," he told reporters. "It was a good solid day. I hit the ball very solid today and lag-putted pretty good today and I made a few here and there."

Another 10 players posted 1-under 71s, including former Masters champions Bernhard Langer (1985 and 1993), Angel Cabrera (2009) and Phil Mickelson (2004, '06 and '10). "It was a (fight) today," Mickelson told a TV reporter. "I tried to be careful early," he added, in reference to three bogeys - and a birdie - in his first seven holes.

Mickelson got the feel of Augusta National - uncharacteristically soft, with minimal winds - however, on the back nine, posting four birdies on the 12th through 16th holes. On the par-4 17th, Mickelson hit a wayward drive - after which he grimaced and grabbed his lower back - which led to a bogey. On 18, he showed no ill effects from any injury and just missed his birdie try.

"I can't wait to get back on the golf course (Friday) because I feel like I can really light it up," Mickelson noted. "I've got to attack the pins tomorrow, because the course is soft."

Thirteen players shot even-par 72s. The group included former Masters winners Mike Weir and Vijay Singh, and No. 2 ranked Rory McIlroy.

The 23-year-old McIlroy started out in good shape, with three birdies and a bogey to make the turn in 2-under 34. But on the back the Northern Irishman began missing greens with short irons and paid for those mistakes, carding four bogeys against two birdies.

"I played well on the front nine, really well, but it seemed when I got some momentum I lost it," he said on TV. "I felt like I hit the ball really well and hope I can do it (again) tomorrow."

Defending champion Bubba Watson had a tough opening round, posting a 3-over 75 that included a birdie and four bogeys. Facing a nine-stroke deficit after 18 holes, Watson knows he needs to keep his cool Friday to make the weekend cut. "I don't need to press," he told reporters. "Even if I miss the cut, I still have a green jacket."

Watson's felt that he played well from tee to green but suffered once he arrived on the short grass. "I hit the ball really well," he told reporters. "I can't complain about my ball-striking. I had four three-putts. Well, it's really three since one was on the fringe . . . I never got the speed right, never got the ball to the hole. (The greens) were slower than what I was expecting."

Other scores included a 75 by Ted Potter, Jr., who won Wednesday's Par 3 Contest, and a 76 by Scotsman Martin Laird, the last qualifier for the 2013 Masters after his win in last week's Valero Texas Open.

Jamie Donaldson, a 37-year-old from Wales, had the shot of the day, a hole-in-one on the sixth. He was the fifth player to ace the 180-yard par-3 and first since Chris DiMarco in 2004.

One of the early highlights of the tournament involved one of this year's oldest participants, 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw, and the youngest player ever to compete in a Masters, 14-year-old Tianlang Guan of China. After Tianlang sank a 20-foot putt from the fringe for a birdie, Crenshaw - a two-time Masters champion - drained his 10-footer to match the youngster, generating a loud ovation from the gallery.

Crenshaw, whose caddie was, once again, the legendary Carl Jackson - his looper at Augusta National since 1976, shot an 8-over 80, while Tianlang carded a very respectable 1-over 73 and is the low amateur after 18 holes.

Couples was amazed at the eighth grader's performance on such a big stage. "He's a cool kid . . . his round was way better than mine," Couples said during his TV interview. "I've played a thousand rounds here and for him to shoot 73 here in the first round is amazing."

Crenshaw echoed those sentiments. "I'm telling you, he played like a veteran today," Gentle Ben told reporters. "He played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself, he's very confident, and obviously beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed, very patient. Very, very, very impressive."

"I was just a little nervous on the first tee," Tianlang told a TV reporter. As for his approach in the second round, he answered calmly, "The main thing is just enjoy the tournament, and have some fun."

When asked for his reaction to his first competitive round at Augusta National, Tianlang added, "Like a dream come true."

For all the scores, visit http://www.majorschampionships.com/masters/leaderboard.html.


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