Bombs away for DeChambeau with back-nine Masters start

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau was set for an early morning showdown with Augusta National's Amen Corner on Thursday in the opening round of the 84th Masters golf tournament.

Long-driving DeChambeau overwhelmed Winged Foot in September with brute force on the way to his first major title, proving his style of maximizing distance and location without regard to rough could produce a major victory.

"I'm playing the best I've ever played," DeChambeau said. "I've won a major. There's a lot of opportunity out there now."

DeChambeau's huge practice drives and talk of using a maximum 48-inch driver stoked fears the 27-year-old American would overpower Augusta National with his length and dominate his way to the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.

"Pretty much every hole, he's going to have a pretty distinct advantage over everybody," third-ranked Justin Thomas said of DeChambeau.

"He still has to execute, hit the shots and make the putts, but I sure would like to be hitting from his tee shots as opposed to mine distance wise."

Wedges and short irons into the notoriously speedy and undulating Augusta greens can only help DeChambeau.

"A short iron into the green is always going to be an advantage, especially at Augusta where the greens are so severe," said Thomas, who warned, "Augusta is never defenseless."

DeChambeau joins world number two Jon Rahm of Spain and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, in the fourth group off the 10th tee at 7:33 a.m. (1233 GMT).

Defending champion Tiger Woods tees off two groups behind DeChambeau, the 15-time major winner looking to match Jack Nicklaus with a record sixth Masters crown and break the mark he shares with Sam Snead of 82 career US PGA title.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, trying to complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, starts off the first tee at noon alongside world number one Dustin Johnson, the 2020 PGA Player of the Year and Tour Championship winner.

McIlroy could join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Srazen as the only career Slam winners. Nicklaus and Player will serve as honorary starters.

Showers and thunderstorms are in Thursday's forecast before conditions clear, setting up a soggy course that could play into the hands of McIlroy, whose major triumphs all featured a rain delay.

Johnson is trying to win his second major title and become the first top-ranked player to win the Masters since Woods in 2002.

A field of 92 starters from 23 nations includes a record 26 players making Masters debuts, two more than the prior record set in 2014.

The Masters newcomers include Collin Morikawa, who won his first major title in August at the PGA Championship.

"Experience never hurts," Morikawa said. "But I have to feel like I can still compete with these guys."

Threesomes will use both tees in a nod to the lesser daylight hours of autumn after the Masters was postponed from its normal April slot due to the Covid-19 pandemic that also resulted in no spectators being allowed to attend.