By Tom LaMarre
Tiger Woods will defend his fifth Green Jacket in the 84th Masters Tournament this week at Augusta National, where what is traditionally the first major of the season in April will be played seven months later because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, it’s not Woods but another native Californian that almost everyone is talking about heading into what now will be the third major of 2020.
Even the great Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters six times, capped by his remarkable victory in 1986 at the age of 46, is talking about Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis in California’s San JoaquinValley.
“Well, let’s start off what (DeChambeau) could do,” Nicklaus told Golf.com. “He could drive the first green. If it’s firm, he could drive the first, under the right conditions … I haven’t seen him in person hit a golf ball except on television at the U.S. Open, and of course at the Memorial tournament. He hit in some places I couldn’t believe. And at 15 at Augusta, he’s got a wide fairway because he’ll hit it past the trees on the left. He’ll need a little pitching wedge into the 15th.
“What he has done is amazing. He’s figured out that distance is far more important than accuracy. Even at a U.S. Open. And he took a chance by doing what he did to build himself to a level to be able to do that. I give the guy great kudos.”
The 27-year-old DeChambeau, who is 6-foot-1, has put on about 40 pounds of muscle in the last couple of years and at 240 pounds is regularly hitting the ball 350 yards and more off the tee.
DeChambeau virtually turned Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaronek, N.Y., in to his own private pitch-and-putt course in September to claim his first major championship by a whopping six strokes.
After playing a recent practice round at Augusta National, DeChambeau admitted he will be playing the course a lot differently this week because of his added length off the tee.
“Well, No. 1 may be different; I don’t know, just depends on the wind conditions, obviously,” DeChambeau said. “I would say No. 2 is different, 3 is different, 5’s different, 7 will be different, 8 will be different, 9 will be different, 11 will be different, 13 will be different, 14 will be different, 15 will be different, 17 will be different, 18 will definitely be different.”
By winning the NCAA Championship while at SMU and the United States Amateur later in 2015, DeChambeau joined Nicklaus, Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore as the only players to claim both those titles in one year.
Since turning pro in 2016, he has won nine times as a pro, including seven titles on the PGA Tour and the 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour.
“I’ve been working and grinding as hard as I can for the Masters … just pushing the limits,” DeChambeau, who is sixth in the World Golf Rankings, told Golf Digest. “It’s been all about the Masters.
“The results and this whole journey is a lot of fun for me. I enjoy trying different things. Now, the fatigue part of it is not so fun. But when that happens I go fix stuff. I make sure to recover the way I have to.
“But I just love going down rabbit holes.”
DeChambeau is the betting favorite in a field that includes former Masters champions Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott of Australia, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Danny Willett of England, Zach Johnson, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Vijay Singh of Fiji, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer of Germany, Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, Sandy Lyle of Scotland, Larry Mize and Mike Weir of Canada.
The odds are DeChambeau will join them, if not this year, then in the not-to-distant future.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Comes to Augusta after tying for fourth in the PGA Championship and winning the U.S. Open by six starts recently in the first two majors of a season like none other. Tied for 21st and was low amateur in 2016 Masters, then tied for 38th and tied for 29th the last two years in first his two starts as a pro.
- Rory McIlroy, Ireland – Making his sixth bid to complete the Career Grand Slam by winning the Masters, he finished in the top 10 five straight years at Augusta before tying for 21st last year. McIlroy has captured four major championships, including the PGA Championship twice, but hasn’t claimed a major title since the 2014 PGA at Valhalla.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – The top-ranked DJ came back from a bout with Covid-19 by tying for second last Sunday in the Vivint Houston Open to continue a brilliant 2020 in which he has won three times. Johnson’s only major title came in the 2016 U.S. Open, and last year he finished one stroke behind Tiger Woods in the Masters.
- Justin Thomas, United States – The 27-year-old Thomas won the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow and has three other top-10 finishes in the majors, but none of them have come in the Masters. His best result in four starts at Augusta was a tie for 12th last year, and he also tied for 17th in 2018. Captured three PGA Tour titles during the 2019-20 season.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – Considered the best player in the world without a major title, the 25-year-old Rahm came the closest to winning when he tied for third in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He has played in the Masters each of the last three years and tied for 27th, finished solo fourth and tied for ninth last year. Tied for 13th in PGA in August.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – Having his best season as a pro, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the BMW PGA Championship, the next best thing to a major on the European Tour. Hatton’s best result in three Masters is only a tie for 44th two years ago and his best finish in the majors was a tie for fifth in the 2015 Open at Hoylake.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – This is his first Masters, but Morikawa captured the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco in August while making only his second start in a major. He tied for 35th in the first, the 2019 U.S. Open, but missed the cut in the U.S. Open in September at Winged Foot. Tied for 12th recently in CJ Cup.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – Another player among the best without a major title, he tied for second behind Tiger Woods in the Masters last year. In fact, Schauffele has seven results in the top 10 of the major events since 2017, including a tie for second in the 2018 Open at Carnoustie and a tie for third in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Claimed the Zozo Championship at Sherwood last month for his third PGA Tour victory, but is another player on the list of the best non-major winners. Cantlay was low amateur in a tie for 47th in the 2012 Masters and tied for ninth at Augusta last year, but his best was a tie for third in 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black.
- Tiger Woods, United States – Comes to Augusta searching for his best game, which he had when he surprisingly won the Masters for the fifth time last year to claim his 15th major title and first since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods needs one more Masters title to tie Jack Nicklaus’ record of six and one PGA Tour victory to break Sam Snead’s mark of 82.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Adam Scott, Australia; Webb Simpson, United States; Bubba Watson, United States; Patrick Reed, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Jason Day, Australia; Phil Mickelson, United States.
- Matthew Wolff, United States – The 2019 NCAA champion won 2019 3M Open, and in his first two majors this year he finished T-4 in the PGA and solo second in U.S. Open.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner in 2019 was T-4 in his first PGA Championship in August and was low am in a T-27 at 2017 U.S. Open.
- Cameron Smith, Australia – Has four wins as a pro and is coming off three straight T-25s, including T-4 at Zozo. Finished T-4 in 2015 U.S. Open and T-5 in 2018 Masters.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Winner of 2018 Australian Open has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but was fourth in Shriners recently. Best major result was T-16 in 2019 PGA.
- Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – Four-time winner as a pro was ninth in the CJ Cup and T-14 in the Zozo recently. Made cut and finished T-59 in first U.S. Open in September.
For first round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html