DeChambeau storms into Masters lead, Scheffler one back

Published April 13, 2024
Bryson DeChambeau of the US plays a shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club.—AFP
Bryson DeChambeau of the US plays a shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club.—AFP

AUGUSTA: LIV Golf’s Bryson DeChambeau used a sizzling burst of late birdies to muscle into a one-shot lead over Scottie Scheffler on Thursday as Spaniard Jon Rahm’s Masters title defence got off to a shaky start.

After a storm delayed the start of the year’s first major by 2-1/2 hours, 2020 US Open champion DeChambeau thrived in the softened but windy conditions and mixed eight birdies with one bogey for a seven-under-par 65.DeChambeau, who raised eyebrows in 2020 when he said the par-72 Augusta National layout for him played more like a par-67, enjoyed a fast start as he opened with three consecutive birdie putts, none longer than six feet.

The only blemish on DeChambeau’s card came at the par-four ninth where he three-putted from 70 feet but he went on to scorch the back nine with five birdies over a hot six-hole stretch that he capped with a 31-foot birdie putt at the 17th.

“I have a level of respect for this golf course that’s a little bit different than a couple years ago, and clearly today was a great test of golf, and I was able to conquer a very difficult golf course,” said DeChambeau, who is one of 13 LIV Golf players in the field.

“Regarding the 67 comment, you know, you mess up. I’m not a perfect person. Everybody messes up. You learn from your mistakes, and that was definitely one.”

World number one and pre-tournament favourite Scheffler, playing in a high-profile group with Grand Slam-seeking Rory McIlroy and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, also rode a late birdie blitz to card a bogey-free six-under-par 66.

Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, was two under through 11 holes but caught fire with four birdies over his next five to pull within a shot of DeChambeau.

“I did a good job of staying patient today,” said Scheffler. “We kept the golf course in front of us. And, I mean, I executed some really nice up-and-downs to keep the round going.”

McIlroy, who missed the cut in last year’s Masters and is making his 10th attempt at completing a career Grand Slam of golf’s four majors, opened with a 71 while world number five Schauffele carded a 72.

Sitting in the clubhouse alone in third place was 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, who is making his first start since undergoing shoulder surgery in September and only decided on Sunday that he would play this week.

The 36-year-old Englishman reached the turn at three under but two bogeys over his next five holes knocked him out of contention until he birdied three of the final four holes.

“I think I might take the next six months off,” Willett joked after his opening 68. “No, it’s completely unexpected. Sometimes that happens, whatever. You make a couple of birdies and your mind starts thinking, all right, I can do it.”

LIV Golf’s Rahm, bidding to become the fourth golfer to successfully defend his Masters crown, launched his title defence with a one-over-par 73.

Rahm reached the turn riding high after two consecutive birdies moved him to two under but he endured a shaky back nine that included four bogeys.

“It’s a difficult golf course. That’s all I can say,” said Rahm. “It’s not easy. You’re not really having the luxury out there of being able to miss shots, especially tee shots. Unfortunately, on that back nine I missed a few too many shots.”

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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