Sergio Garcia, who closed the 2002 World Golf Championships – American Express Championship in Ireland with a course record 62, began this year’s renewal by establishing the low mark of 65 for the recently opened Capital City Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
The 23 year old Spaniard was one of the few players in the 72-man field who did not make a single bogey on the first day to take a one stroke lead of Americans Tim Herron and Rocco Mediate with defending champion, Tiger Woods, and recent Linde German Masters winner, KJ Choi a further stroke behind on 67.
Garcia also led after the first round of the WGC – NEC Invitational but slipped back to finish tied 30th behind Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland. This week Garcia is determined to finish as well as he started as he chases his first victory of 2003.
The demands of the par 70 Capital City course suit Garcia, who admitted: “I’ve always felt much better on difficult courses because I don’t feel it is so much of a putting contest. It doesn’t put so much pressure on my putting, which is the area of my game that has been holding me back.”
Herron, like Garcia, did not make a bogey in his round of 66 while Mediate had six birdies and two dropped shots playing in the company of Sweden’s Niclas Fasth, who shot a highly respectable 68.
The Ryder Cup player kept his composure on a brutal layout and commented: “It is simply a very tough course and I am very happy with that. I played okay for 12 holes and really well after that. I am not far away and hopefully I can hang in there and be in with a chance on Sunday.”
Also on 68 is Volvo PGA champion, Ignacio Garrido, of Spain, who came to the final hole needing a par four to shoot a 66 but walked off with a double bogey six. Garrido pointed out: “This course is going to get you some time and it got me on the last. If I had had a four down the last it would have been a fantastic round, but 68 is pretty good.”
Woods and Clarke are the only players to have won more than one World Golf Championships event and both are in the shake-up early in the contest. Woods holed a huge putt on the 18th for his 67 in defence of the title he claimed at Mount Juliet – also the 2004 venue – a year ago.
Clarke, meanwhile, birdied the 17th then made a fabulous sand save at the 18th to get round in 69. The Irishman, a four shot winner of the WGC – NEC Invitational in August, was bullish about his play.
“I played very nicely today” he said. “I had a lot of opportunities but I think that a 69 is an accurate reflection of the day. I’ll take that on such a tough golf course.”
Peter O’Malley of Australia also fired an opening 69 for a share of eighth place while Germany’s Alex Cejka, Trevor Immelman of South Africa, Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen, Welshman Phillip Price, Adam Scott of Australia and Vijay Singh of Fiji were in a group on 70, level par. On 71 were Brian Davis of England and Scotland’s Alastair Fostyth, playing in their first World Golf Championships event.