Sixty-seven. The number Bryson DeChambeau once said was his measure of Augusta. He revised that this year, said it was now 68. So in that sense he was one below.
With real money, he was five under for the day, one for the tournament, a beautiful 18 holes that put him into battle at the weekend. Was it as easy as he wanted it to sound? Barely.
There were times when DeChambeau’s game was teetering on the brink. That’s why it’s so exciting to watch him. Take the eighth. The tee shot flew the required 348 yards as planned, anyway.
Bryson DeChambeau placed himself in a weekend fight at the Masters after a fine 18 holes
Not really good, far into the trees, but the wrong side of the first cut, in the pine straw. This was not one of the famously unique strategies. This was not a science machine, not a smart plan.
“Bastard, dude,” DeChambeau exclaimed in admonition. He lowered his voice and murmured a more damning judgment. “That’s awful,” he whispered.
When he got to the ball, he was lucky. A clear view of the green through the gnarled trunks and a chance to shoot out. He came within 11 feet of the pin, sank a two and a half meter putt for a birdie. It was the first time that he was below par in both rounds of the 2021 US Masters. And it had taken him 26 holes.
So far, bomb it and find it, as Butch Harmon rather disdainfully described the DeChambeau philosophy. There is of course much more to it.
There were times when DeChambeau’s game rocked the brink and it was a thrill to watch him
Some of the shots he played on Friday were sublime – huge, arrow-straight, 300 yard plus carriers from the tee that were quite easy to find, being in the most perfect spot on the fairway.
DeChambeau treated his environment with respect. Was it mutual? Not always. Taking almost 20 yards of par four third out of the equation from the tee was impressive – but we’ve seen monster rides before.
And, as Phil Mickelson pointed out, the best defense weapon for any championship course is the greens. No matter how far he got, DeChambeau still had to compete against the greens. Hard and fast and devilish in their contours and mysteries.
More than once they grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat. Bomb it and find it? Would Augusta be revered the way it is if that were the secret to undoing it? On the third, he put his second 4 meters past the pin and missed the birdie putt.
The green coats wait patiently for the sport to deal with DeChambeau’s best plans. Fred Ridley, president of Augusta National, doesn’t feel like running the course 8,000 yards in the near future to insure himself against an invasion of DeChambeau clones.
DeChambeau had treated his environment with respect, but the feeling was not always mutual
There are holes that can be extended, but Ridley believes it can affect the delicate balance of a design classic. He is also right. Acts of vandalism could be committed when natural remedies and some old-fashioned counterattacks would do the job better.
A few dry days, a stiff breeze, smart pin positions. These are what kept DeChambeau at bay here. It’s an even match, a fair match. Augusta won on Thursday, De Chambeau on Friday, especially in the back nine.
However, a well-constructed golf course is still the most brutal opponent. All week, analogies have been pouring in about Augusta’s toughness. “I feel like I just got out of the ring with Evander Holyfield,” Sergio Garcia said.
“I feel like I just got out of the ring with Mike Tyson,” repeated Gary Woodland. DeChambeau’s bodywork is often spoken of in terms of a boxer putting on muscle, but Augusta has plenty of jabs herself too. They just decorate them with flowers around these parts.
On the beautiful par three 12th, DeChambeau hit his tee shot to less than two meters, then walked out with his birdie putt. He stood over the ball with his mouth open. ‘Oh. My. God. There is no way it breaks like that at the end. It’s in all the way. “You thought so,” Augusta grins, and dances off, while Ali taunts an enraged Sonny Liston.
Augusta may have won on Thursday, but DeChambeau won on Friday, especially on the ninth
It’s also not easy to successfully execute DeChambeau’s overarching ambition from the tee every time. His opponents make it sound like someone can pile up and do it. That’s bad. He was mostly straight, often in an excellent position, some distance ahead of his playing partners Adam Scott and Max Homa.
But when he misses, he misses big. On the 10th he flew straight past the gallery ropes again and skipped down the wooded slope. More accusations. “I’ll do it again,” he said. This time, like the previous one, he recovered to explode from the foliage, with a roar of approval and a big “ho, ho, ho” from an even greater patron.
Yet it was not enough. DeChambeau ogre, returned a hard-earned shot, returned to three above par. Golf loves its champions in the parking garage, but 300 meters to a parking lot offers no way out.
DeChambeau’s is a game with an extremely high risk and a small margin for error. It is feared because, if it works – as happened last year at the US Open at Winged Foot – it would be almost unbeatable. But it must always be good.
And so far that has happened sporadically at the Masters. After making three birdies between holes 13 and 17, he almost gave back a lot on 18, a tree hadn’t diverted his ball to another lucky lie. From there, however, he made a bird. He is so much more than this one-dimensional caricature.
DeChambeau’s game is based on high risk with a small margin for error – it always has to be good
When asked about DeChambeau’s personal par, Dustin Johnson said his own scorecard was 72. You can imagine there would also have been a wry smile after DeChambeau’s opening round of 76. He calculated that it was eight above par.
Friday’s round would have been greeted more soberly. They also hope with admiration. What other golfer is dealing with such self-induced pressure right now?
So this was a great day for DeChambeau. He avoided the nervous waiting at the shooting range because the cut’s predictions fluctuated. But he will also know that Augusta National gave the best it could here.
The spotlight will have shot into the night sky as he rethought how to tame this monster. Some think he is the monster. He is not. He is a cat, compared to Augusta with his wild animals. We will see.