Powerhouse DeChambeau threatens Masters-shattering barrage

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Bryson DeChambeau is about to launch his ball-blasting style at Augusta National, and even his rivals wonder if golf will be the same after his attack at the Masters.

DeChambeau's overpowering US Open victory at Winged Foot in September proved his strategy of maximum distance and precise direction without fear of dense rough could win major titles.

The 27-year-old American bulked up during the three-month PGA shutdown for Covid-19 that postponed the Masters from April and forced it to be played without spectators.

Now the world number six is hitting wedges and short irons into Augusta's formidable undulating greens -- likely to be softened by predicted rain -- and talking of re-routing drive angles on certain holes.

"Every day I'm trying to get faster and stronger and I'm trying to hit it as far as possible," DeChambeau said.

"I've only seen improvements in strength increase. I've felt better every day, so I really don't know where the endgame is on this."

It could end Sunday with DeChambeau wearing a green jacket even as a host of rivals prepare to challenge for the title.

"I wish he didn't have an advantage over me and everybody else, but the fact of the matter is that he does," third-ranked Justin Thomas said.

"I just need to grow up and get over it because I can still beat him like I can anybody else, but it just comes down to playing better."

It comes down to making superb chip shots and sinking putts even with approaches from longer distances.

"I still think this golf course provides enough of a challenge to challenge the best players in the world," said four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.

"He did drive it really well, but at the same time you need to back that up with all other aspects of your game."

McIlroy needs a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam and he's just as happy that DeChambeau is the Master focus.

"I do prefer that, McIlroy said. "Trying to stay as low key as possible. This is nice. It's more subdued. It's more relaxed.

"Bryson is going to be feeling a little different because the attention is on him and deservedly so coming off a major win and basically disrupting the game of golf.

"It's a big story and I'm just as intrigued as everyone else to see how that unfolds."

- Tiger vows to contend -

Defending champion Tiger Woods, who turns 45 next month, has struggled to find top form since returning from the pandemic layoff.

"I haven't put all the pieces together at the same time, whether it's I've driven well or hit my irons poorly. Or I've put the ball striking together, and I haven't putted well," Woods said. "Hopefully that will be this week."

Woods made an injury comeback for the ages last year with his 15th major triumph and fifth Masters crown, an emotional fightback from back surgery to his first major win since 2008.

"It was one of the greatest feats in the history of sports," said rival Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner.

Woods will try to match Jack Nicklaus with a record sixth Masters victory and capture his 83rd US PGA crown to seize the all-time record he shares with Sam Snead.

"Do I expect to contend? Yes I do," Woods said. "This is a golf course in which having an understanding how to play, where to miss it and how to hit the shots, it helps."

DeChambeau is hitting the same wedges into holes where Woods did in his epic first major win in 1997.

"I can hit it as far as I want to, but it comes down to putting and chipping out here," DeChambeau said.

DeChambeau says Augusta National plays to a par-67 for him, five shaved strokes a round aided by his ability to drive certain greens and master par-5 holes.

"Holes like (13) and 15 are par-4s for him and par-5s for everybody else," Thomas said.

"But he's not winning every tournament he's playing in, so it's clearly not too much of a disadvantage. You still have to get the ball in the hole."

Mother Nature could tame DeChambeau as well, with softer landing areas taking away extra roll distance and making greens receptive.

"You can be a little more aggressive," McIlroy said. "The ball is going to hold on some of the different areas on the greens."