Sergio Garcia at the Masters (USA Today Sports)
AUGUSTA, Ga. (USA TODAY) - A frustrated Sergio Garcia said a year ago after a poor performance in the Masters that he just simply wasn't meant to win a major.
What a difference a year makes.
Garcia fired a bogey-free 6-under 66 to grab a share of the first-round lead with Marc Leishman of Australia.
Both will be working against history: For Garcia it's his 14 years of coming up short in majors; for Leishman it's Australia's history of coming up short at the Masters.
Big-hitting Dustin Johnson stayed in the fairway most of the day and was on target around the greens, opening with a 5-under 67.
Rickie Fowler, 1992 champ Fred Couples, 2008 champ Trevor Immelman, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and David Lynn, who finished second in the 2011 PGA Championship, each shot 68. Adam Scott, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson were each at 3 under.
Tiger Woods, after a round he called solid, was in a large group at 2 under, including Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker, Justin Rose, K.J. Choi and Jason Day. Phil Mickelson rallied on the back nine to finish with a 1-under 71. Rory McIlroy ended up with a par 72 after an up-and-down round.
Defending champion Bubba Watson struggled to a 75.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China, rammed home a birdie putt on 18 to complete a surprising 73.
Conditions were ripe for red numbers: The greens were relatively soft, and the wind was relatively calm.
"With the balls sticking the way they are, there's margin for error," Mickelson said.
Leishman started early and surged to the front with four consecutive birdies on the back side starting at No. 13. Not bad, considering the Australian had missed the cut in his only other Masters appearance in 2010.
"The first time I was here," he 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."
He was hardly on a roll coming into Augusta, having missed the cut in his two previous PGA Tour events. But it all came together, for one day at least, amid the azaleas and towering Georgia pines.
"To be sitting here is pretty cool," Leishman said. "But it's only Thursday afternoon, so a lot of golf to play."
Garcia, still seeking his first major title at age 33, has often struggled with Augusta's tricky greens. He has only two top 10 finishes in 14 previous Masters.
Lynn showed that his runner-up finish in last year's PGA Championship was no fluke. Under gray skies with a growing chance of rain, he birdied four of five holes around the turn and rolled in a testy 15-foot putt at the final hole to save par.
He hardly looked like a Masters rookie.
"It's about playing the percentages," Lynn said. "When I was on the ninth, I turned to my caddie and said, 'We're leading the Masters.' He just looked at me and smiled. I told him, 'I'd rather be leading it Sunday afternoon.' But it's not a bad thing to see your name up there leading the Masters. That's always something I can look back on."
About three hours before Woods teed off, the tournament began with ceremonial shots from three of golf's greatest players - 83-year-old Arnold Palmer, 77-year-old Gary Player and the 73-year-old Nicklaus.
Palmer was clearly pleased with his effort, which settled right in the middle of the fairway. He pumped his right fist as the crowd roared.
"The only nerves are to make sure you make contact," Nicklaus quipped. "It doesn't make a diddly-darn where it goes."
If Woods is in contention heading to the weekend, he'll likely have plenty of competition.
"Obviously, Tiger is Tiger," said Scott Piercy, who played in Woods' group along with Luke Donald. "He's always going to be that target. He knows it, and that's how he wants it. But there's a lot of people getting closer. And the golfing gods, or whatever you want to call them, have a lot to do with winning. A bounce here, a bounce there. A lip in, a lip out."
Contributing: Associated Press