AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Last year, the mere sight of the Augusta National left Sergio Garcia disconsolate. On Thursday, he was tied for the Masters lead with Marc Leishman.

Another year, another Sergio, who at 33 years old remains golf's dark prince, a mercurial talent haunted by self-doubt.

"Obviously, it's not my most favorite place," Garcia said after he shot a 6-under 66 and was asked about his complaints last year about Augusta National. "But you know, sometimes it comes out better than others. And let's enjoy it while it lasts."

The Spaniard had also declared last year at Augusta that he did not have the capacity to win a major.

"Those were my words," he said Thursday. "It was a frustrating few hours."

Tiger Woods of the U.S. hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in
Tiger Woods of the U.S. hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

It's said no one wins the Masters on the first day but some lose their chance to win. The first round played to that maxim and then some, as players positioned themselves for the weekend and only a few notable players slipped from contention.

Twenty-one of the top 30 players in the world rankings, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlory, were within six shots of Garcia and Leishman.

"The goal is to stay alive until the back nine on Sunday," said Dustin Johnson, who was a shot behind the leaders. "We all know that."

Among those at 4 under was 53-year-old Fred Couples.

"I know where to miss here, and I know where not to miss," said Couples, the 1992 Masters champion.

He was tied with five others at 68 -- local favorite Matt Kuchar, former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Rickie Fowler, David Lynn and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Woods, meanwhile, played his first competitive round in the company of his girlfriend, Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn. He played cautiously but finished at 2 under. "It was a good, solid day," said Woods, one of 10 players to shoot a 70. "I'm pleased. You keep the ball in play on the first day and get yourself ready for the rest of the tournament. I'm right there."

It's the fifth time Woods has shot 70 in the first round of the Masters. Three of the four previous times he shot 70, he won the tournament.

Phil Mickelson rebounded from a slow start to shoot 71.

Rory McIlroy notched five birdies but canceled them out with five bogeys and shot a 72.

"I felt like I played well. Just silly mistakes and a couple of 3-putts on the back nine," said McIlroy, who got a kiss and hug from girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki after signing his scorecard.

Rickie Fowler started out each nine with a double bogey, but an eagle and six birdies had him signing for a 68.

The youngest player in the history of the Masters, 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, charged back from a 2-over 38 in his first nine holes to shoot 1 under on the back side for a 73. Guan curled in a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 and was in 46th place in the 93-player field.

"I feel great to play the first round here," Guan said. "I was just a little bit nervous on the first tee, but I hit a great tee shot on it and after that I just felt comfortable."

Defending champion Bubba Watson three-putted three times, and a fourth time from the fringe en route to a 75.

"It's golf," Watson said. "There's going to be bad days and good days."

Cal's Michael Weaver opened with a 78, tied for 82nd place and fifth among the six amateurs.

Sergio Garcia of Spain tips his hat to the crowd after sinking a par putt on the 18th green during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at
Sergio Garcia of Spain tips his hat to the crowd after sinking a par putt on the 18th green during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

"It was fun," he said. "It was a little frustrating at times, but that's the way it goes."

But in the end, it was Garcia's brilliant play when expectations for him at Augusta National could not have been lower that caused the biggest stir.

"I hope for the best and if I manage to do that, I will have a chance at winning," Garcia said. "If my best is not that good, then, you know, I'll struggle a little bit. Today my best was pretty good, and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days. But we'll see."

The Associated Press and MCT Information Services

leaders

Name To par Total
M. Leishman -6 66
S. Garcia -6 66
D. Johnson -5 67
D. Lynn -4 68
R. Fowler -4 68
G. Fer.-Castano -4 68
T. Immelman -4 68
F. Couples -4 68
M. Kuchar -4 68
For complete score listings, see scoreboard on

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