For about 90 seconds, Sergio Garcia was alone atop the leaderboard at the Masters. Garcia had been playing some strong golf, birdieing the first three holes of the day at the same time first-round leader Charley Hoffman was swan-diving down the leaderboard.
Hoffman bogeyed the 11th hole just ahead of Garcia, giving Garcia sole possession of the lead. But then came the 10th, and a strange sequence of events. Garcia bogeyed the hole, dropping him back into a tie with Hoffman. He’d hit his tee shot into the woods, and hit a provisional ball, but ended up playing his original shot. The multiple-ball experience apparently confused the hell out of the scorers at Augusta, however, with some serving Garcia a two-shot penalty and others leaving his original score intact. Garcia’s true score — a bogey on the 10th rather than a triple-bogey — wasn’t established until an hour later, when Garcia was on the 14th hole.
“This usually feels like the kind of golf course you have to get to know and make peace with,” Garcia told ESPN. “It’s very challenging, and the wind makes it tough.”
Garcia closed strong, birdieing 17 and sticking his approach at 18 to within a few feet before missing the birdie putt. He still finished the day tied for the lead with Charley Hoffman at -4, a lead that held up for the rest of the afternoon, and he’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before teeing off late Saturday.
In 18 prior appearances at Augusta, Garcia has only three top-10 finishes, his best a T4 in 2004. He and Augusta have rarely seen eye-to-eye; in 2009, he seethed, “I don’t like [the course at Augusta National], to tell you the truth. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s too tricky. Even when it’s dry you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It’s too much of a guessing game. They can do whatever they want. It’s not my problem. I just come here and play and then go home. That’s about it.”
He’s moderated his tone since then. “I was frustrated,” he said of his earlier vents, including his own complaints that he’d never win a major. “I didn’t accept things as well as I should have. Since then, I’ve shown myself that I can contend and win, not just one [major] but more than one.”
He’ll start Saturday late, and will have a fine opportunity to do a little more than just come here, play, and go home.
Garcia stands atop the leaderboard amid a grouping that includes Hoffman, Thomas Pieters, and Rickie Fowler, all of whom worked their way to a four-under card through a combination of savvy wind play and timely birdies. The Masters remains wide open, and for the first time in many years, Sergio Garcia is right in the mix.