NEARLY-MAN Sergio Garcia thrust himself into contention to win a long-awaited first Major title last night by shooting a six-under-par 66 for a share of the lead after the first round of the Masters.
The Spaniard’s flawless round left him tied with unheralded Australian Marc Leishman at the head of the leaderboard, as favourites Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy made modest starts at Augusta.
English journeyman David Lynn set the early pace and ended among seven players, including 2008 winner Trevor Immelman and veteran 1999 champion Fred Couples, on four under, a shot behind American Dustin Johnson.
World No1 Woods, who has been widely tipped to cap his resurgence with a first Major since 2008, birdied the sixth, eighth and 13th holes, but dropped a shot at 14 to finish amid a pack on two under.
The American 14-time Major winner is known to gather pace as tournaments progress and will still be fancied, while England’s Lee Westwood also carded a 70 despite a disastrous double bogey at the first.
McIlroy, who appeared to have shaken off his dreadful start to the year with a second place finish at last week’s Texas Open, endured an erratic round, carding five birdies and five bogeys, including the 17th, to finish on level par.
World No16 Garcia, twice a Major runner-up, at the US Open in 2007 and the USPGA in 1999, raced to five under after 10 holes and made a further birdie at 15 to draw level with Leishman.
“That was great,” said the 33-year-old, who has battled back from a career slump over the past 18 months. “The first 10 holes is easily the best I have played here at the Masters. I made a couple of good saving pars and a nice birdie on 15, so I’m happy with that.”
Former world No1 Luke Donald shot a one under 71, while fellow Englishman Ian Poulter was four over after a disappointing 76.
6 Sergio Garcia (SPA), Marc Leishman (AUS)
-5 Dustin Johnson (US)
-4 Fred Couples (US), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (SPA), Rickie Fowler (US), Trevor Immelman (SA), Matt Kuchar (US), David Lynn (ENG)
-3 Jim Furyk (US), Zach Johnson (US), Adam Scott (AUS)
-2 KJ Choi (KOR), Tim Clark (SA), Kevin Na (US), Jason Day (AUS), John Huh (US), Justin Rose (ENG), Brandt Snedeker (US), David Toms (US), Lee Westwood (ENG), Tiger Woods (US)
Selected others: -1 Luke Donald (ENG), Phil Mickelson (US); E Rory McIlroy (NI)