Bryson DeChambeau was taught a valuable lesson at The Masters today.
If you’re going to big yourself up, literally as well as figuratively, then you better be able to back it up.
Since winning the US Open in emphatic fashion two months ago, the 27-year-old has spoken with increasing cocksurety of his game plan for Augusta National. He proposed aiming for the 14th fairway off the 13th tee. He delighted in detailing the short clubs he hit into most greens during practice rounds. And that’s to say nothing of the benightedness he demonstrated when he bragged that he regards the par-72 course as a par-67.
And yet, for all his heft, DeChambeau could do no better than a two-under (three-over?) 70 in today’s first round of the COVID-delayed tournament. Sixty-two-year-old Larry Mize shot the same number. But for back-to-back birdies to finish, he’d be seven shots, not five, adrift of the early pace-setter, Paul Casey. He’s not out of it, by any means, but the fact that ‘out of it’ is even in the conversation should be chastening enough.
“This golf course, as much as I'm trying to attack it, it can bite back,” admitted the world No.6 after his round. “It's still Augusta National, and it's the Masters. It's an amazing test of golf no matter what way you play it.
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“I tried to take on some risk today. It didn't work out as well as I thought it would have but at the end of the day I'm proud of myself the way I handled myself and finished off.
“Birdieing 8 and 9 was a testament to my focus level, and wanting to contend here.”
On the one hand, DeChambeau is right. There were positives to be taken from his day. But given the bombastic way he came into the tournament, the negatives surely outweigh them and will require some measured consideration ahead of his second round.
Ironically, it was the 13th that delivered this abstract thinker his most object lesson of the day. After finding the trees up the right hand side off the tee, DeChambeau pulled an extremely ambitious approach from the pine straw into the bushes to the left of the green. His provisional found the creek short of it. After locating his first ball, he took a penalty drop out of the shrubbery, duffed a chip, popped his second attempt to ten feet and two-putted for double.
A rare victory for art over science, and one that could have been avoided but for foolish pride.
“I'm greedy,” he acknowledged. “Sometimes I can get a little greedy and I like taking risks. You've got to take risks to win tournaments, and albeit I made double from it, I still think over the course of four days, I can get that back to under-par.
“Probably should have laid up on that one, but you know what, I like taking risks.”
Maybe so. But at what cost?
The way he played 13 was emblematic of DeChambeau’s day. Erratic, uneven, edgy. The stats bear that out. He hit eight of his 14 fairways and 11 of his 18 greens, Sure, he averaged 334 yards off the tee but there’s little evidence from any one of the previous 83 editions of this tournament to suggest that brawn wins you green jackets. DeChambeau seems determined to test that theory. A less bloody-thirsty game-plan, one suspects, would serve him better.
Three rounds remain and, come Sunday, DeChambeau could well be wearing a green jacket.
The war rages on. But, today at least, Augusta National won the battle.