The battle for the green jacket may ultimately elude Bryson DeChambeau once again this year. But the ongoing battle for the soul of golf remains ongoing – and as riveting as ever.
After a first-round 76 on Thursday left the Californian four-over par and in danger of missing the cut, a much-improved second round yesterday ensured golf’s pantomime villain will hang around for the weekend. The way DeChambeau bludgeoned his way around the back nine, climbing steadily back into overall contention, will raise further questions as to whether he might be preparing something even bigger.
The purists will be on their guard. DeChambeau’s boast last November that Augusta National was a mere “par-67” for him lit the blue touchpaper of fears that golf was going the way of power over feel and led to Augusta’s committee preparing a far tougher test for the players this week. The Schadenfreude when he bombed out of contention was palpable. And when DeChambeau faltered in the first round this week, it looked as if he was going to be served another healthy lesson in hubris rather than a meal of his choosing at the Champions Dinner.
But the 27 year-old with the whacky irons and whackier attitude fought back in round two as Augusta’s far more forgiving fairways and greens allowed him to bring his power game to play.
Beginning the day at four-over, DeChambeau spent most of the first few holes chuntering away to himself as he tried to get his round going. Almost, it seemed, through sheer force of personality, rather than the bludgeoning power or dispassionate, machine-like efficiency for which he is known.
For someone who bangs on so much about the science of golf, who crunches numbers to within an inch of their lives and favours analytics over ‘feel’, DeChambeau is surprisingly human on the course. It is part of what makes him so fascinating. Watching him wrestle with his human frailties as he tries to prove his thesis; that the maddening game of golf can be reduced to cold hard numbers and the application of science.
It’s a battle he can never win. Because the truth is, while the Californian may look like a gym bunny and swing like a robot, he is actually very human.
Watching DeChambeau play you are treated to a curious mix of tics and gestures. After getting the line of his putt wrong at the first, he looked reproachfully in the direction of his caddie. After dropping a shot at the par-four fifth, failing to find the green in two and then leaving his chip on the fringe of the green, he laughed ironically and tapped the offending turf with his putter as if to suggest its physics must have been wrongly calibrated rather than his calculations.
DeChambeau claimed that dropped shot back at the next hole, the par-three sixth, hitting his tee shot to within 10 feet and holing out with his strange ramrod-straight-arms putting stance.
But it was back to ‘human’ DeChambeau at the par-five eighth, finding the trees out to the right with his drive for a second successive hole, and cursing in a very un-robotic way: “Son of a gun! Jesus Christ!”
DeChambeau is more creative than he is given credit for. He escaped from that sortie into the woods with a birdie after threading a 200-yard approach through the pines. And he moved to two-under par for the round, and two-over for the tournament, with another birdie, his third in four holes, at the 470 yard par-four ninth where he left himself a mere 140-yard approach.
The back nine was a similar wrestle. Another trip into the trees at 10 yielded a further bout of chuntering – “Doin’ it again, Tim” he called out to his caddie Tim Tucker – and his second bogey of the day. But he cancelled that one out with a gargantuan 358-yard drive at the par-five 13th, smashing the ball so far off the tee that it rolled through the line of seated patrons on the corner of the fairway at the dogleg left, who had to be moved back a few yards to allow DeChambeau to his approach shot over the water.
He was beginning to find his range now and he claimed further birdies at the par-five 15th and the par-four 17th to move back to level par heading up the last.