After 30 holes, Augusta National is winning its match with Bryson DeChambeau

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bryson DeChambeau, golf’s version of Smart Hulk, can dazzle you with an array of numbers, like 344.4 (his average driving distance this season); 48 (the length in inches of the driver he’s tested at Augusta); 3,000 (the spin rate, in rpm, of his tee shots).

Right now, though, there’s only one number that matters: One. As in, one stroke over par, one stroke on the high side of the cut line of this year’s Masters, where DeChambeau now sits after 30 holes.

Yes, the man who was supposed to break Augusta is now struggling to break par. And unless he can make up ground in a hurry on Saturday morning — Round 2 was suspended due to darkness Friday — he’s going to spend Masters Sunday the same way the rest of us will, in front of a TV.

DeChambeau has a habit of talking to himself on the golf course, breaking down every shot — particularly the ones that go awry — like a kid trying to explain why he would have had his homework done except for the fact that there was this rainstorm, and the assignment wasn’t really clear, and I already have an A in the class so why’s it necessary, really?

But DeChambeau might want to spend a few minutes having a little talk with his driver instead, since it’s the heralded big stick that’s let him down on two crucial occasions this week. Thursday, he tried to get too cute, hammering his second shot on the 13th hole into the bushes above the green.

Friday, he tried again to leave his mark on the course, and again he missed the mark and decked his scorecard instead. Attempting to drive the green on the 350-yard third hole, DeChambeau somehow managed to lose his ball in the second cut.

Bryson DeChambeau looks for his ball with Jon Rahm and Louis Oosthuizen on the third hole during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
Bryson DeChambeau (white hat, right) looks for his ball on the third hole during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Nov. 13, 2020 in Augusta, Georgia. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The result: a pair of sevens, five aggregate strokes over par. When the rest of the field is diving deep into the red, those are mortal wounds to your scorecard. Thanks for visiting Augusta National, Bryson, grab yourself a plastic Masters cup on your way out.

DeChambeau deserves praise for looking at Augusta National not as a problem to solve, but a puzzle to take apart and rebuild. It’s that kind of boundary-stomping mindset that heralds quantum leaps forward in the sport.

But there’s a reason this course has remained not just relevant but challenging when so many of its fellow early-20th-century brethren are now virtually obsolete by current standards. Augusta National spots your weaknesses and exploits them. Trouble with the approach? Get ready to putt over speed bumps. Wobbly with the putter? Get ready for the experience of putting on a hockey rink. Like to think your way out of a jam? Augusta will have three more lined up the moment you figure out the first.

The statistics bear that out. While DeChambeau leads the field in driving distance at 337.9 yards, he’s having all kinds of trouble after the ball leaves the tee. He’s ranked T-68th in fairways hit, T-70th in greens hit in regulation and 76th in scrambling. That’s not the way to wrestle a course to the ground.

Maybe this is the course’s way of getting back at DeChambeau for trash-talking the par 5s earlier this week. You wouldn’t think a course could be actively vindictive against one player, but then again if any course could, it’d be this one.

“I’m looking at it as a par 67 for me,” DeChambeau told Golf Channel, “because I can reach all the par 5s in two, no problem.”

That’s actually somewhat close to correct — DeChambeau is -3 over the six par 5s he’s played so far — but Augusta is taking its pound of flesh out of his hide on every other hole. His Frankenstein’s monster of a first nine Friday included a seven-hole stretch that ran birdie-triple bogey-bogey-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie. It’s the only thing that ugly that Augusta National will allow to see the light on this course.

A green jacket’s almost surely out of reach for this year; DeChambeau is going to need some steady play just to make the cut. The even par he posted over the final six holes Thursday won’t cut it Saturday morning. On the plus side, he’s still got two of those par 5s left. Making the cut isn’t a certainty, but it’s a reasonable likelihood.

But DeChambeau isn’t here for participation trophies, moral victories or bounceback top-20 finishes. He’s here to win, and the fact that he probably won’t in 2020 will burn for the next five months. We have no idea what kind of arsenal he’ll break out next April, but we’ll be watching and waiting.

And so will Augusta National.

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