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Garcia, tied for Masters lead, confident this time

Apr 11, 2013; Augusta, GA, USA; Sergio Garcia hits out of a bunker on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2013 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.  Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 11, 2013; Augusta, GA, USA; Sergio Garcia hits out of a bunker on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2013 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

AUGUSTA -- Last year, Sergio Garcia set himself up.

The enigmatic talent had just shot a 4-under 68 and was alone in third place heading into the weekend at the Masters. That day's leader, the 52-year-old Fred Couples, had just announced he had the energy and game remaining to win the major tournament and here came Garcia one stroke back of Couples and Jason Dufner.

"I don't know if I am ready to win," he said. "I'll see. We'll see. ... I wish I could tell you I am ready to win, but I really don't know. So, I'm just going to give it my best try, and you know, hopefully that will be good."

It wasn't.

Garcia came out Saturday, shot a 3-over 75 and finished out of the top 10.

Fast forward another year and it's another chance for Garcia, who at 33 years old still remains major-less.

Garcia shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday and joined Marc Leishman as the co-leader after the first day of the Masters. He hit 14 of 18 greens and didn't bogey a hole. He scattered his six birdies over 15 holes, playing the first 10 5-under and three-putted just once.

"What I am going to try to take to my pillow tonight is the first 10 holes," Garcia said. "I feel without a doubt it's the best 10 holes I've played at the Masters."

Gone from Garcia was last year's moribund resignation. Replacing it was a hint of optimism.

"Those were my words," he said of last year's comments. "We go through tough moments, and frustrated moments or frustrating moments and I know it was one of them. I definitely kind of (shot) myself out the the tournament last year and that's what I did on Saturday, so I wasn't wrong there.

"Today, my best was pretty good, and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days. It will be really nice."

After the first day, seven players are within two shots of Garcia and Leishman. Dustin Johnson is one back at 5-under after briefly matching the leaders before a bogey on No. 17. He chipped in for birdies on Nos. 1 and 9. A Columbia, S.C., native, Johnson hasn't cracked the top 30 at the Masters in three tries and missed the tournament last year after injuring his back.

"I've played OK here in the past, just not great," Johnson said, calling the Masters his favorite event. "Not playing last year and then coming back this year and getting a good round is really, really good."

Behind Johnson lies a cadre of six players at 4-under, including Ricky Fowler, Trevor Immelman and Matt Kuchar. Former Masters champion Zach Johnson is at 3-under par. Tigers Woods and Phil Mickelson are both 1-under and defending champion Bubba Watson opened at 3-over par.

"It's golf, there are going to be good days and bad days," said Watson, who had three three-putts. "I hit the ball really well.

"Nobody owns the jacket. Everybody is playing for it right now."