Masters: Bryson DeChambeau ready to rip Augusta National apart
Forget defending champion Tiger Woods. Forget grand slam-chasing Rory McIlroy. Forget in-form world No 1 Dustin Johnson. With all due respect to that talented trio, the eyes of the sporting world will mainly be on Bryson DeChambeau in this week's rescheduled Masters.
In 12 rounds at Augusta National, the American has broken 70 just once. He's dead last in strokes gained for putting among players who have played eight rounds or more there over the last three years. Based on that, the 27-year-old shouldn't even be mentioned when mulling over the Green Jacket contenders.
If the event had been held in its traditional April slot, that would probably have been the case. But not now. Having used the COVID-19 lockdown to add muscle to his weaponry, the golfing narrative has mostly been about DeChambeau over the past five months.
A win was on the cards when he landed the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit in July. He then tied for fourth in the US PGA Championship in San Francisco before overpowering Winged Foot, widely regarded as one of the toughest tests in golf, to make his major breakthrough with an impressive six-shot success in the US Open.
As he indicated in the aftermath of that victory, DeChambeau has not been resting on his laurels. Over the past few weeks, he's been trying to dial in a 48-inch driver - the maximum length allowed under the Rules of Golf and two-and-a-half inches longer than the one he's been using - that he’s hoping to put in play at Augusta National.
“It’ll look like a missile coming off the face,” he said. “It’ll be going pretty fast.” As for how far, and bear in mind that we are talking about the player who led the PGA Tour last season in driving distance, averaging 322.1 yards off the tee, we will need to wait to find out. “I won’t disclose that right now,” he added. “I don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”
The mind boggles. Holes at Augusta National have already been made easier by equipment technology and now DeChambeau could be set to rip the Alister MacKenzie-designed course apart in the event's novel November slot.
"I'm most interested in all the players next week watching how Bryson will go ahead and attack the golf course," said former US Open champion Andy North, speaking in his role as an ESPN analyst.
"I watched him play an awful lot of golf at the US Open, and watched him hit an awful lot of balls and you can watch it on TV but, until you're standing next to him and actually watch the violence that he's creating and how the golf ball leaves the club head, you can't believe it. It is absolutely astounding.
"I'm looking forward to seeing where he drives it on some of these holes. A hole like the eighth hole (the second longest on the course at 570 yards), I've heard rumours he'll hit like 7-iron in there. Thirteen, he's talking about trying to drive it over the trees into the 14th fairway and create that angle.
"I mean, it will be places that we've never seen anybody even think about getting to, and the fact that there are no patrons, you can go some different directions than maybe you normally would, you couldn't, because there's so many people in that spot.
"Is he just going to flip it on to the third green (a 350-yard par-4) every day, like it's just a nice long par 3? I don't know. But it sure changes how you can attack the golf course if you can drive over every single bunker and you can start taking shortcuts and hit it up over corners that no one's ever done before. It's going to be fun to see."
In the US Open, DeChambeau's all-round game was hugely impressive, ranking in the top three in strokes gained in three categories, including around the green. In the final round, he was also third in strokes gained for putting. He'll now be hoping to overcome that aforementioned poor putting stat in this major.
"The most important part of Augusta is he's still got to make putts, but he proved that at Winged Foot," said Curtis Strange, a two-time US Open champion and North's fellow ESPN analyst, on the same conference call. "He was No. 1 in scrambling. That seems to be the nature of his game.
"I think he's incredible. I marvel at the way he's going about this, and thinking so outside the box, his own way. You know, he's proven that with the golf ball and the distance and all the conversation the last 20 years or so, he's proven that it wasn't just about the ball and the club.
"It was about the physical man, as well, and that was poo-pooed for a long time, but he's proven that it is a lot about physical; the strength, the speed, the flexibility. But in his case it looks about the strength, mass, the speed, something I've never thought about.
"I'm anxious to see where he drives it. Augusta has always been the most important second-shot golf course that I ever played. Think about the second shots he's going to have.
"So I don't know if he's a heavy betting favourite, but I do know he might be the most talked-about person coming into a Masters since Dustin [Johnston] and his run some years ago or Tiger or Jack [Nicklaus] in their day.
"I think the world who follows the game thinks that Bryson is automatically going to win, and we know that's not the case, but he's pretty dog-gone good, and, more than anything else, he's full of confidence right now after winning the US Open."
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