Estes, making his 13th appearance at the MasterCard Colonial, fired a 5-under-par 65 to take the lead after the first round in Ft. Worth, Texas.
The Austin resident leads nine players by two. David Duval, who has yet to record a top-10 in ten starts this year, is among the group who shot 69 Thursday.
Only 34 players in the 124-man field broke par in the 10-20 mph swirling gusts.
'The winds were difficult, but I managed to combat the wind for the most part,' said Estes, who played at the University of Texas. 'A lot of good shots didn't turn out good, or some mishit ones turned out OK. It was difficult to pull the right club.'
Sergio Garcia opened his title defense in 6-over-par 76. Last year, Garcia was five off the lead through 54 holes, before shooting 63 Sunday at the par-70 course to win by two strokes over Brian Gay and Phil Mickelson. Hell need a similar number this Friday just to qualify for weekend play.
Estes celebrated a banner season a year ago by winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas. His victory in Memphis, Tenn., was his first on the PGA Tour since his maiden triumph at the 1994 Texas Open. The now 36-year-old ended the 01 campaign ninth on the money list, with almost $2.8 million in earnings ' nearly equal to his last three years combined.
Estes Colonial beginnings were marred with six missed cuts in his first nine starts. However, he tied for seventh in 1999, and tied for sixth in 2000. Last year, he shot his career best score at this venue, a 6-under 64, in the third round.
While Estes continued his recent Colonial success Thursday in a bogey-free manner, the same could not be said for the defending champion. In fact, Garcia failed to record a birdie.
His day started in fine fashion, with an eagle-3 at the par-5 11th. But thats where the roller coaster peaked, and then plummeted. Garcia bogeyed Nos. 12, 15 and 16 to make the turn in 1-over 36. The front nine ' his back ' was even worse. He dropped a shot at the first, and made three consecutive bogeys starting at the fourth. Fittingly, his day ended with another black number at the ninth.
'There's not much to talk about,' said Garcia, who hit just nine of 18 greens in regulation. 'What can you say about a 76? I got to playing bad, then got worse.'
Only one player has successfully defended his title. Ben Hogan won the first two Colonials in 1946 and 47, and the repeated the feat in 52 and 53. Hogan added a fifth Colonial title to his resume in 1959.
Vijay Singh and Tom Watson are three back at minus 2. Watson last won on tour at this event, at the age of 48, in 1998. 2000 champion Mickelson made three bogeys and 15 pars for a 73.
Full-field scores from the MasterCard Colonial