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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – In the battle between the longest hitter on the PGA Tour and the longest course in major championship history, round 1 went to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Bryson DeChambeau returned an even-par 72 on Thursday (leading one of the judges to score it a draw), but he looked bruised and battered afterwards and admitted as much.
“The wind just kicked my butt,” he said. “Just grinding out there, it takes a lot out of you.”
As a matter of fact, he struggled to remember many of the finer details of his up-and-down round, which began with two birdies in his first three holes, starting at No. 11, playing downwind before a sloppy 3-putt bogey at 13 and a string of four bogeys in a row when the wind flipped into his face. As he tried to remember where he had taken three putts – was it 12 or was it 13? It was 13! – an exasperated DeChambeau gave up and said, “I’m all out of sorts. It’s a lot of wind out there and heat.”
In actuality, it was just a typical windy day at Kiawah, but for DeChambeau, who turns hitting every shot into a math equation, the wind put him through an assortment of mental exercises.
“This golf course takes it out of you. This is the most difficult golf course that I’ve played on Tour, and that is a straight-up fact for me,” he said. “That requires a lot of energy.”
Eventually, DeChambeau was told that if he looked behind him he could see his hole-by-hole scorecard in lights and that allowed him to gather himself and continue discussing his misadventures on his first nine holes where he was in danger of falling out of contention at the year’s second major on Thursday.
“Three-putted 13, then 14 kind of came about from just not making a good first shot. 15, hit two good shots, just misaligned the drive on 15, hit it too far left, didn’t get it up and down. 16, misjudged the wind on the first shot, and there you go,” he said. “It’s a quick four bogeys and off and running after a good start.”
But DeChambeau played steady from there, making birdies on both of the par 5s (Nos. 2 and 7) and traded a bogey at No. 3 with a birdie at No. 8 when he drained a 20-foot birdie putt.
“For the most part, I stuck my head up high and kept it high and was able to finish strong on the front nine,” he said. “Played really well.”
That might be a stretch. His putter was cold (-1.385 SG: Putting), his driver was crooked (8 of 14 fairways) and his iron game was stymied by a breath of wind by Kiawah standards (11 of 18 greens in regulation). He’s going to have to do better at flighting his irons if he’s going to mount a charge for the title. As DeChambeau’s third shot from 97 yards got caught blowing in the wind, he seemed mystified.
“Oh my goodness,” he muttered as it hit short of the green and bounced into a deep bunker left of the green that led to a bogey on a par 5. Still, returning a score at level par is nothing to sniff at on a day when only four players broke 70 in the early wave.
“Getting to 4-over is really nothing out here either. It’s diabolical,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got to be on point every single hole.”
Watching DeChambeau battle on Thursday was a reminder that golf is hard, even when you can hit it a country mile.