DeChambeau brings power to Masters as McIlroy eyes Slam

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau prepared to smash tee shots into places that Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones never imagined on the eve of the 84th Masters.

World number six DeChambeau will try to overpower the famed layout, soaked by a half-inch of overnight rain with more forecast before his early morning Thursday tee time.

DeChambeau, who overwhelmed Winged Foot in September to capture his first major title, bulked up during the Covid-19 layoff that postponed the Masters from its usual April date.

"I'm hitting it further than the US Open," DeChambeau warned. "I've only seen improvements in strength increase."

And his experiments with equipment have produced a ball-blasting strategy some fear will shatter golf and break the Masters, hitting for maximum length and position without regard to deep rough, setting up easier wedge and iron shots into greens than his rivals will face.

"Hitting it further is definitely an easier way to play the game," DeChambeau said.

The pandemic will mean no spectators at the Masters, removing the famed roars that typically echo through the grounds for spectacular shotmaking and opening some areas for shots that the 27-year-old American hopes to exploit.

"I'm going to be able to hit it on certain lines where patrons would be," he said. "I feel like it does provide me a little bit of an advantage in that case, to hit into those areas without thinking about it at all."

Thunderstorms are predicted Thursday and a softened layout could foil some of the extra distance DeChambeau shots get from a run on hard fairways.

Wet conditions could also open the door for four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who would complete a career Grand Slam by lifting the green jacket.

It's the sixth time McIlroy has played the Masters with a chance to complete the Slam, having won his most recent majors in 2014 at the PGA Championship and British Open. Those came in events hit by severe rain, as was his 2012 PGA Championship triumph.

Fifth-ranked McIlroy had a golden chance to win the Masters in 2011, opening with a 65 and leading after the first three rounds only to close with an 80 and share 15th.

The sting of that blunder led McIlroy to his first major win in his very next opportunity, humbling a rain-soaked Congressional Country club to capture the US Open.

In rainy weather such as this week's Masters will see, the 31-year-old from Northern Ireland might finally complete the career Slam to join a list that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.

"I've gotten more comfortable with the fact that if it happens great, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," McIlroy said.

"When you're comfortable with the result either way, it frees you up and relaxes you to go out there and play your best."

McIlroy has five top-10 finishes at the Masters, with his best of fourth coming in 2015, when he was chasing a third consecutive major victory.

"I've had some success at this course. I just have to put it all together," McIlroy said. "I still feel like I have plenty more chances."

- Tiger assembling pieces -

Defending champion Woods, who completed an epic comeback from back surgery with his Masters victory 19 months ago, tries to capture his sixth green jacket to match Nicklaus' record.

No one since Woods in 2001 and 2002 has claimed consecutive Masters titles but if he can repeat the feat, Woods would also win his 83rd career US PGA Tour title, breaking the all-time mark he shares with Sam Snead.

"I haven't put all the pieces together," Woods said of a season of struggles since the pandemic break ended. "Hopefully that will be this week."

There will be no Masters Par-3 Contest this year, wiped out for only the second time since it began in 1960 due the Covid-19 spectator ban. It was called off in 2017 due to bad weather.

That also cancels out the so-called Par-3 Masters curse -- no player has ever won the contest and the Masters in the same year.