Tiger Woods might be the center of attention, but big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau was impossible to ignore ahead of the opening round of the Memorial Tournament.
Woods and the newly bulked-up DeChambeau practiced together on the eve of the tournament, which marks the former’s return to the PGA Tour after a five-month absence.
While Woods has been away, DeChambeau has been hard at play, the new power generation leader stretching his run of top-10 finishes to seven tournaments, including a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit earlier this month.
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Tackling the Muirfield Village course this week is the latest challenge for DeChambeau, who has gotten bigger physically in recent months to greatly improve his distance off the tee. Many bookmakers make him the favorite for this week, given his recent consistency.
Where Woods was once the biggest hitter on tour, DeChambeau is now setting the standards in length, but with extra yardage comes the need for greater subtlety with the short irons, and that is an area where DeChambeau knows he needs to tune up.
“I haven’t really worked that hard on it because I’ve been working so hard on the driving and on the putting, and it showed in Detroit,” DeChambeau said.
“That’s the next step for us and for my team … how to become like a Steve Stricker or like a Tiger with his wedges, or JT, Justin Thomas. He’s unbelievable with his wedges. If I could gain a little bit of that magic, that’s just another edge that we’re trying to get at.
“I have worked on it a little bit. I know where we’re going to be heading to try and test some stuff.”
DeChambeau, who will begin in a group with Collin Morikawa and Patrick Cantlay,has long lived in awe of the 44-year-old Woods, a 15-time major winner.
“Even now, he’s hitting it pretty long. There was a couple of holes he hit 320, 325 [yards]. That’s pretty good for his age. It’s amazing for his age,” DeChambeau said.
“I’d say that he inspired a whole new group of golfers to do new and amazing things, to not be afraid of hazards, to not be afraid of tough golf courses and go after it and just play without fear.
“I never imagined that I’d be even hitting it this far. That was never my game. It wasn’t a thought until this last fall, until I started saying, you know what, maybe there’s something here. Maybe I can gain a little bit of yardage if I go down this route, and lo and behold, there was a lot of yardage to be gained that I never thought I would have done when I was a kid.”
Jack Nicklaus, the founder of Muirfield Village, said he is relishing seeing DeChambeau up close this week.
“I’ve seen him on television, and he’s a much bigger man. But he was tall to start with, but if he’s carrying 250 pounds, that’s a lot of weight for Bryson,” Nicklaus said.
“But Bryson, he doesn’t look heavy, he just looks big. I want to watch a little bit, watch him play a little bit. I’d like to see what he does and how he’s actually doing that because he’s obviously doing something right. The ball is going a long way. And he’s playing well with it.”
As for DeChambeau, he would love to impress Nicklaus, golf’s greatest champion.
“Anytime you get to play Muirfield Village and play in front of Jack, it’s a special honor,” said the 26-year-old.
“It’s definitely a challenge no matter how you look at it with this added length, and I appreciate it, and look forward to using it to my advantage hopefully a few times this week.”
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