Sergio Garcia watches his tee shot at No. 11 on Thursday during the first… (Andrew Redington / Getty…)
AUGUSTA, Ga. — — During his adventure on the first three holes Thursday, Tiger Woods clanged a hair-raising screamer off the gallery and landed a tee shot on a spectator's beer cup, turning his chase for a green-jacket refitting into a scramble at the start.
By the end, there were rueful laughs and accidental on-air expletives and a mid-round surge, as well as Lindsey Vonn and her floppy hat bouncing expectantly at the fringe of the 18th green as Woods' birdie putt veered just right.
The world's No. 1 player wasn't No. 1 on the leaderboard as the first round of the Masters closed at Augusta National. That honor belonged to Woods foils past, present and unknown: The ever-puzzling Sergio Garcia and the previously anonymous Marc Leishman handled the course with six-under-par 66s.
"It was a good, solid day," Woods said after a two-under 70. "It's a good start. I'm only four back, and I'm right there."
It's a bit of a crowd right there, with Augusta National there for the taking despite slower-than-expected greens on an overcast day. Thirty-three players finished in red numbers. After Garcia and Leishman came Dustin Johnson with a five-under 67 and six players tied at four under, including 1992 champion Fred Couples, age 53.
Garcia started in the sixth-to-last group but didn't delay in joining the scoring barrage. He recorded four front-nine birdies and another on No. 10 before adding one more birdie on the par-five 15th and saving par with a sweeping shot from the trees on No. 17.
"What I'm going to try to take to my pillow tonight is the first 10 holes," Garcia said. "Without a doubt, it's the best 10 holes I've played at the Masters. Even though scoring-wise maybe it wasn't, the way I hit the ball and the amount of birdie chances I gave myself, it meant a lot."
His fellow leader and nearest pursuer, meanwhile, were enjoying happy returns.
Leishman's previous Masters foray was a disaster. He missed the cut at seven over in 2010, a weekend the Australian conceded was full of sightseeing, of being consumed by the spot where Couples' ball once lingered on the bank on No. 12 or where Larry Mize hit a miraculous chip on No. 11.
He recorded five birdies on the back nine Thursday after making three birdies and an eagle in the same stretch during practice Wednesday. That round convinced Leishman decent play was possible, as he said, "because it felt impossible last time."
"You put all your mistakes in the memory bank and try not to make them again," Leishman said. "I hit it in a lot of bad spots my first year. I managed to avoid those spots today. Hopefully, I can avoid them for the rest of the week."
Johnson, from nearby Columbia, S.C., returned to Augusta after a one-year hiatus because of a back injury and used holed-out chips on Nos. 1 and 9 and an eagle on No. 13 to spur his round before a bogey on 17 dropped him from a share of the lead.
Still, there was a nagging feeling this could be a Tiger-Sergio dance once more. Woods struggled early, but three mid-round birdies provided rhythm before a bogey on No. 14 stifled it. He ended in a familiar position from which to strike. His long-ago nemesis ended in position to prevent that.
"Today my best was pretty good," Garcia said. "I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days."