MARTIN SAMUEL: DeChambeau knows he can't bully way to a Masters title

MARTIN SAMUEL: Augusta 1-0 Bryson DeChambeau… just. Not out of contention or at risk of missing the cut but the idea he can bulldoze his way to a green jacket has quickly been dispelled

  • Bryson DeChambeau was given a dose of reality across 18 holes at Augusta
  • The idea he could bulldoze his way to a green jacket has quickly been dismissed
  • He is by no means out of contention but it proved a thorny affair on Thursday 

The green jackets can rest easy, for now at least. It will not need a special Augusta ball to contain Bryson DeChambeau. For the moment it just needs Augusta.

The idea that the greatest golf courses will simply be bullied into irrelevance by big shafts, big science and enormous upper body strength was dispelled on Thursday across 18 holes in which DeChambeau fought to stay true to his philosophy as Augusta National battled to maintain its dignity.

Augusta won. Not by much. It did not succeed in putting DeChambeau out of contention, or make him rethink his strategy. He is not about to miss the cut and may even be a contender as the tournament heads towards the weekend. There are plenty of major winners who start the week worse off than two under par. But Augusta was no 67, as DeChambeau had suggested. And if it was, he finished three over.

Bryson DeChambeau found the opening day of The Masters a thorny affair at Augusta National

He found he could not use his bulldozing style against one of the sport’s greatest courses

Some of his shots were way off, leaving him navigating trees and the surrounding shrubbery

When DeChambeau set out with a plan to bludgeon Winged Foot and the 2020 US Open into submission, and succeeded, it put the sport on notice.

Ever since there has been talk of what can be done to stop DeChambeau and his disciples making the sport’s most verdant and storied venues redundant. Yet that overlooked one key factor. DeChambeau chipped and putted like a dream at Winged Foot. 

On Thursday, he did not. Some of his second shots were way off; birdie opportunities went awry.

At a time when half the field was in red numbers, DeChambeau was a battling level par. He joined them eventually, courtesy of a strong finish with back-to-back birdies, but it was a struggle all day. When he really caught his drive on the ninth — his 18th due to teeing off at 10 — leaving his ball in a part of the fairway never previously explored from the tee, he almost sighed with relief. He followed it up with a pin high second and drained the putt. This was the gameplan, executed.

A strong finish keeps him in contention but there will have been plenty of food for thought

DeChambeau had taken familiar hazards out of play, exploited angles others could not. Yet it was a rare show of strength. When he drove 350 yards almost onto the green of the par four third, it then took him three to get down. His first attempt to denude a par five, ended with him taking seven. Too often, where he hoped to be leading, he was playing catch-up.

It was no little irony that the most consistent performer of his group was Louis Oosthuizen, diminutive in size and distance and four under par at the end. The leaderboard was full of men whose game DeChambeau is trying to make obsolete, the way Serena Williams ended the competitive careers of delicate singles players like Martina Hingis. Maybe, by the end of the tournament, Thursday will be no more than a learning experience, but it did not look that way as balls flew into bushes and provisionals into the creek.

DeChambeau did not hit as many fairways as he would hope and Augusta’s pine straw is no friend or foothold to a man who throws himself into every shot like Babe Ruth.

DeChambeau had only completed one hole when trouble struck. His drive on the 11th — actually his second — was so far left it required a provisional ball. His recovery shot flew to a part of the course that would traditionally be occupied by a temporary spectator stand. That was the first of several valuable saves, as Augusta punished presumption.

DeChambeau talks of par 67 because as well as the driveable third, Augusta is blessed with a quartet of par fives — the professionals’ friend. DeChambeau approached the first of them, the 13th, and promptly put his drive right. He was still the longest and, as Oosthuizen and Jon Rahm played, DeChambeau could be seen methodically cleaning pine straw from the soles of his shoes for better grip. Not that it did much good.

His second flew the green and buried itself deep into bushes. A provisional met its end with a splash. There were eight people looking for the first ball at one time and, located, DeChambeau had to declare it an unplayable lie. He had hoped to play the hole as a par four, maybe even as a three: he took seven.

‘I got greedy,’ DeChambeau admitted. ‘As much as I’m trying to attack this golf course, it can bite back. I tried to take on some risk today, but it didn’t work out how I thought. My ball striking was not great. But I think over four days I can get that hole to under par. I was average. I feel I can do better tomorrow.’

Look, he’s certainly not average. He’s never less than a compelling watch. He hit a seven iron to another par five, shrugged and declared he ‘could have hit an eight’. Coming off the back of the first into a stretch of the course he clearly fancies, he declared: ‘Let’s play some golf.’ And this is golf, no matter what his detractors argue.

Just because there is brute strength at the core makes it no less of a challenge. 

Williams is capable of incredible finesse within her power game, Liverpool’s ferocious pressing does not detract from sublime technique. On the fifth, having overshot into a bunker, DeChambeau put his sand wedge one roll away from holing. It was a gorgeous moment, a reminder of what could happen if all elements of his game come together.

‘There were a couple of shots he played that were like reality checks,’ said Rahm. ‘Luckily for us he wasn’t very straight on the first few holes, the trees were stopping his ball and he was where we were.

DeChambeau is a compelling watch but it was difficult viewing seeing shots go so wayward

‘But after the drive on five — I mean, I hit mine good, and he was a good 20 yards past the bunkers. And I was like: “Wow!” And then on eight as well, he seemed to toe it and he was still way ahead of me. Louis said to me that they both hit a seven into 15. Louis hit a seven wood, Bryson hit a seven iron. So that was funny.

‘He’s questioning whether he can carry bunkers that aren’t even in play for us. It’s a different golf course he’s playing but I think what today proves is that no matter how hard you hit, you still need to make the putts. He shot two-under par because he made a lot of scrambling up and downs. His short game is drastically underrated right now.’

And that is what will ultimately win the Masters for DeChambeau, if it is going to happen. 

It wasn’t what the golf world was talking about on Thursday night though. The conversation has not moved on all week. Augusta balls, wrecking balls, there is only one topic in town.

SCORECARD 




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