Defending champion Joey Sindelar, who picked up his first PGA Tour victory since 1990 when he defeated Arron Oberholser in a playoff last year, shot a 4-under 68. He is tied for second place with Kenny Perry, Richard Johnson and Patrick Sheehan at Quail Hollow Club.
Tiger Woods returned to the tour after a three-week absence following his fourth Masters title. He shot a 2-under 70 and is tied for 10th place.
Woods fell to even-par on his round after mistakes on his second nine, the front nine at Quail Hollow. At the par-3 sixth, Woods missed long and right and never recovered for par. One hole later, Woods hit a poor second shot and took another bogey at the par-5 hole.
But the No. 1 player in the game rebounded. He closed with a pair of birdies to get into the mix after round one.
He will be chasing Garcia, who began his first round on the second nine.
Garcia hit a 4-iron into a greenside bunker at the par-5 10th but blasted out to a foot and tapped in for birdie. He made it two in a row at the 11th when his 5-footer found the bottom of the cup.
At the short, par-4 14th, the Spaniard came up short of the green with his drive. He chipped with a 7-iron and nearly holed out, but settled for a tap-in birdie. Garcia two-putted from 30 feet for birdie at the 15th, then made it three in a row at 16 when he ran home a 9-footer.
Garcia hit a 6-iron to 16 feet to set up birdie at the 18th and polish off his opening nine in 30.
'I started really well with a couple of birdies, hit it really close, and I just kept it going,' said Garcia. 'I hit a lot of greens. I think I only missed one green, the first green, because I hit a wayward drive.'
Garcia hit a poor drive at one and took bogey. At the second, Garcia hit a solid 8-iron inside 20 feet and his birdie try lipped out of the hole. Unfortunately, Garcia's 3-footer for par also missed so the 25-year-old fell into a share of the lead at minus-4.
Garcia's tee ball at the par-5 fifth ran through the fairway and he was unable to get a 3-wood on to the green. He hit a sandwedge for his third and the ball stopped 15 feet from the cup, where he drained the putt.
He had a great look at birdie on the par-5 seventh, but his eagle try from 35 feet ran 5 feet past the hole. Garcia missed that one, then missed an 8-foot birdie chance at the eighth.
Garcia closed his round at the difficult ninth hole. He had 211 yards for his second and hit a 5-iron to 5 feet. Garcia converted the birdie putt to take a two-shot lead, despite missing several makeable chances.
'Don't get me wrong, I'm not disappointed. I'm happy about the round, happy about the score,' said Garcia. 'I probably only got 60 percent out of the round, so it could have been a lot better. But I'm still really happy about the way I played.'
Sindelar made the turn at even-par, but rattled off five birdies in a six-hole span to get to minus-5. He made a mess of the 18th with a terrible drive and a skulled 3-wood for his second. The defending champion also needed a 3-wood for his third shot, then two-putted from 30 feet for a bogey.
'This has been incredibly special for me,' admitted Sindelar. 'It has certainly defined, if not my career, at least the second half of my career. It thrills me to come back in here reporting reasonable success the first day. It was very important to me. And I'm not very good when I make it too important.'
Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, would have been alone in second place at 5-under par, but double bogeyed the 18th. He posted a 3-under 69 and is tied for sixth place with Andrew Magee, Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik.
Woods was joined in 10th by world No. 2 Vijay Singh, Players Champion Fred Funk, Ryan Palmer, Bart Bryant, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Tag Ridings.