The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia had an enjoyable day on a course that's never been one of his favorites.
The shots were true. The putter was steady. The score was good enough for the Masters lead.
Now comes the hard part: holding it together for another three days.
"We'll see what happens," Garcia said, sounding a bit apprehensive.
For the impetuous Spaniard, that's always been the conundrum. How can a golfer of such talent have gone this long without winning a major title? Why does he keep blowing it on golf's biggest stages?
Well, here he is again, sharing the top spot with Marc Leishman after a 6-under 66 Thursday, ripping up Augusta National with a performance that came with only one complaint: It could've been even better.
That it happened in the Masters was even more remarkable, considering this is the one major where Garcia has never been much of a factor.
"Obviously, it's not my most favorite place," he said. "We try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but today is was one of those days. You know, let's enjoy it while it lasts."
The second round began on another cloudy morning, after overnight rain soaked the course. There were a few sprinkles for the early players, but the sun was expected to break through in the afternoon, with temperatures rising into the upper 70s.
Garcia started the second round with a couple of pars before making his first bogey of the tournament at the third, dropping a shot off the lead. Dustin Johnson bogeyed the first hole, slipping to 4 under, where he joined a group that included Trevor Immelman, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler.
In recent years, Garcia seemed more and more resigned to the perception that time had passed him by — even at the relatively young age of 33.
Until Thursday, he had not led in any round of a major since the British Open at Carnoustie in 2007, when he set the pace the first three days but lost — of course — to Padraig Harrington in a playoff.
That was the latest in a series of bitter disappointments, of close-but-no-cigar calls in every major championship but the Masters, where he has only two top-10 finishes in his previous 14 appearances.
Last year, he shot himself out of contention during a dismal third round and bluntly declared he just didn't have the game or temperament to win a major championship — certainly not at Augusta.
"Maybe I didn't say it the right way because it was one of those frustrating moments," he conceded.
There was none of that frustration on the opening day of this Masters. The first 10 holes might've been as good as Garcia can play, a 5-under score he made look downright easy.
"If I manage to make a couple of putts that kind of stayed around the lip, I could have been probably 7- or 8-under par through 10," Garcia said. "It was that good."
We've seen this from him before, just not over all four days of a major.
That was the big question when he teed off Friday.
"Every time I tee it off, I try to play as well as I can, hope that my best that week is really, really good," he said. "My best was pretty good, and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days. It will be really nice."
Plenty of players took advantage of the gentle conditions Thursday.
Even an eighth-grader.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China and youngest to compete in a major in 148 years, played well beyond his age. He holed a 15-foot putt from just off the 18th green for a respectable round of 73 and a reasonable chance of making the cut.
Guan dropped a shot early in the second round with a bogey at the par-3 fourth.
Tiger Woods wasn't far off as he began his quest for a fifth green jacket. Wild at the start of the opening round, including a tee shot that knocked a cup of beer out of a spectator's hand, Woods settled into a groove and opened with a 70 as his girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, watched on a few holes.
In his four Masters wins, Woods has never opened with a score lower than 70. His key is not to shoot himself out of the tournament before the weekend. He had an afternoon tee time Friday.
Johnson has a game that fits perfectly for Augusta and he finally brought it. Johnson hit a 9-iron for his second shot on the par-5 13th and made a 15-foot eagle putt, and he smashed his drive on the par-5 15th and hit pitching wedge just through the green for an easy birdie.
Fred Couples, the 53-year-old wonder at his favorite major, made bogey on the 18th and still was in the large group at 68. There were a dozen rounds in the 60s on Thursday, and nearly half the field shot par or better. Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson recovered from a rough start by running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to salvage a 71, while Rory McIlroy had a 72.
Woods said he struggled with the slower pace of the greens, and so did defending champion Bubba Watson, who opened with a 75.
"They're soft and they are slow, and consequently we have 45 people at par or better," Mickelson said. "But that means I've got to change my whole mindset and just get after these pins, because the ball's not running like it used to and I'm giving this course way too much respect because of my past knowledge."