MARTIN SAMUEL: Monster? Bryson DeChambeau is a pussycat compared to the wilds of Augusta… it was a grand day for the American but he knows the course has given as good as it’s got
- A fine 18 holes put Bryson DeChambeau in weekend contention at the Masters
- There were times when his game teetered on the edge and was thrilling to watch
- DeChambeau treated his surroundings with respect but it wasn’t always mutual
- His game is hugely high risk and there is little margin for error at the tournament
Sixty seven. The number Bryson DeChambeau once said was his par around Augusta. He revised that this year, said it was now 68. So, in that sense, he was one under.
In real money he was five under for the day, one for the tournament, a splendid 18 holes that puts him in weekend contention. Was it as easy as he likes to make it sound? Hardly.
There were moments when DeChambeau’s game teetered on the edge. That is why watching him is such a thrill. Take the eighth. The tee shot flew the requisite 348 yards as planned, but right.
Bryson DeChambeau put himself in weekend contention at the Masters after a fine 18 holes
Not significantly right, way into the trees, but the wrong side of the first cut, into the pine straw. This was not one of the famed unique strategies. This was no appliance of science, no cunning plan.
‘Son of a gun, dude,’ exclaimed DeChambeau in admonishment. Lowering his voice, he muttered a more damning verdict. ‘That’s dreadful,’ he whispered.
When he arrived at the ball, he had got lucky. A clear view of the green through the gnarled trunks and a chance to blast out. He got within 11 yards of the pin, sunk an eight foot putt for birdie. It was the first time he had been under par in either round of the 2021 US Masters. And it had taken him 26 holes.
So much for bomb it and find it, as Butch Harmon rather disparagingly described the DeChambeau philosophy. There is considerably more to it than that, of course.
There were times when DeChambeau’s game rocked on the edge and watching him was a thrill
Some of the shots he played on Friday were sublime – enormous, arrow-straight, 300 yard-plus carries from the tee that could be found quite easily, because they resided in the most perfect spot on the fairway.
DeChambeau treated his surroundings with respect. Was it mutual? Not always. When he took all but 20 yards of the par four third out of the equation from the tee, it was impressive – but we’ve seen monster drives before.
And, as Phil Mickelson pointed out, the best defensive weapon for any championship course is the greens. However far he hit, DeChambeau still had to take on the greens. Hard and fast and devilish in their contours and mysteries.
More than once, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Bomb it and find it? Would Augusta be revered as it is, if that was the secret to its undoing? At the third, he put his second 13 feet past the pin, and missed the birdie putt.
The green jackets are waiting, patiently, for the sport to deal with DeChambeau’s best-laid plans. Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National, has no desire to have the course play 8,000 yards any time in the near future, to insure against an invasion of DeChambeau clones.
DeChambeau had treated his surroundings with respect but the feeling was not always mutual
There are holes that could be extended, but Ridley believes this could affect the delicate balance of a design classic. He is right, too. Acts of vandalism could be perpetrated when natural remedies and some old-fashioned counter-attacking measures would do the job better.
A few dry days, a stiff breeze, smart pin positions. These are what have kept DeChambeau at bay to here. It is an even contest, a fair contest. Augusta won Thursday, De Chambeau Friday, particularly on the back nine.
A well set-up golf course is still the most brutal opponent, however. All week analogies have been coming in about Augusta’s toughness. ‘I feel like I just come out of the ring with Evander Holyfield,’ said Sergio Garcia.
‘I feel like I just got out of the ring with Mike Tyson,’ echoed Gary Woodland. DeChambeau’s body work is often spoken of in terms of a boxer applying muscle, but Augusta has plenty of jabs of its own. They just adorn them with flowers around these parts.
At the gorgeous par three 12th, DeChambeau struck his tee shot to within seven feet, then lipped out with his birdie putt. He stood over the ball, open mouthed. ‘Oh. My. God. There’s no way it breaks at the end like that. It’s in the whole way.’ ‘That’s what you thought,’ smirks Augusta, and dances away, Ali taunting a furious Sonny Liston.
Augusta may have won Thursday but DeChambeau took Friday, particularly on the back nine
Also, it’s not easy to successfully execute DeChambeau’s overarching ambition from the tee every time. His detractors make it sound as if anyone could bulk up and do it. That’s rot. He was largely straight, often in an excellent position, some distance ahead of his playing partners Adam Scott and Max Homa.
Yet when he misses, he misses big. At the 10th, he flew right again beyond the gallery ropes, skipping down the wooded incline. More reproach. ‘Doing it again,’ he said. This time, like the last, he recovered to explode from the foliage, drawing roars of approval and a large ‘ho, ho, ho’ from an even larger patron.
Yet it wasn’t enough. DeChambeau bogeyed, gave a hard-earned shot back, returned to three over par. Golf loves its car park champions, but 300 yards into a car park affords no way out.
DeChambeau’s is a hugely high risk game with scant margin for error. It is feared because, when it works – as happened in the US Open at Winged Foot last year – it is close to unbeatable. But it has to be all good, all of the time.
And so far, at the Masters, that has happened sporadically. Having made three birdies between holes 13 and 17, he nearly gave much of that back on 18, had a tree not diverted his ball into another fortunate lie. From there, however, he made birdie. He’s so much more than this one-dimensional caricature.
DeChambeau’s game is based on high risk with scant margin for error – it must always be good
Asked about DeChambeau’s personal par, Dustin Johnson said that his own scorecard read 72. One imagines there will have been some wry smiles after DeChambeau’s opening round of 76, too. By his reckoning that was eight over par.
Friday’s round would have been greeted more soberly. With admiration one hopes, too. What other golfer is dealing with such self-inflicted pressures right now?
So this was a grand day for DeChambeau. He avoided the nervous wait on the range as predictions of the cut fluctuated. Yet he will also know that, to here, Augusta National has given as good as it’s got.
The floodlights will have blazed into the night sky as he considered once again, how to tame this monster. Some think he’s the monster. He’s not. He’s a pussycat, compared to Augusta with its wild up. We shall see.
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