Garcia climbs leaderboard with 65 in Australia

Sergio Garcia

MELBOURNE, Australia – Sergio Garcia put himself into the mix Friday at the Australian Masters with his lowest score of the year, a 6-under 65 that left him in range of the leaders going into the weekend.

The smile returned to the Spaniard’s face on a blustery day at Victoria Golf Club, the kind of conditions that show off his ball-striking skills. What made the difference for Garcia, as always, was making his share of putts.

He played bogey-free on a course that was averaging nearly three shots over par because of the wind, and one of the few greens he missed, he holed a 40-foot birdie putt from down the slope.

“I’m just trying to shoot the best score I can,” Garcia said.

Daniel Gaunt, one of the three leaders after the opening round, shot 72 and was the clubhouse leader at 5-under 137. Garcia was one shot behind, and could be in the same spot at the end of the day.

Defending champion Tiger Woods, who opened with a 69, made birdie on the 257-yard first hole and was 3 under for the tournament after four holes.

Garcia began the year with a 66 in the Abu Dhabi Championship, where he wound up in 13th place. That was as good as it got the rest of the year. His only top 10 in the United States was fourth place at the Match Play Championship, where he lost in the semifinals. He didn’t have one in Europe until finishing 10th at Valderrama a few weeks ago.

Garcia took the longest break of his career after the PGA Championship, not returning for two months. He said he needed a break to readjust his emotions, and a day like Friday certainly felt fun.

“It just depends on the day,” Garcia said. “If I wake up and feel at ease, it seems like everything will go right. If I wake up not feeling so great, it can be a struggle as we go on. It can be better.”

Garcia made birdie on all the par 5s, picked up a surprise birdie on the third with his long putt from off the green, and finished with a wedge that settled 8 feet behind the hole and a fist pump when it dropped for birdie on the ninth.

He was not about to declare himself back to full form after one round, but it was encouraging.

“Even though it was quite difficult with the conditions, it seemed like we were always making the right decisions,” Garcia said. “Put that with how I was hitting the ball ... to be honest with you, that wasn’t the lowest score I could have shot.”

It helped to be in the hunt, however, especially with a nasty forecast for the weekend with heavy rain expected at times.

“I don’t want to say I hate playing in the rain,” Garcia said. “But I strongly dislike it.”

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