April 5 (Reuters) — World number five Bryson DeChambeau will have to shake off last year's ill-fated Masters attempt and weave finesse into his power-driving style to tame Augusta National as the year's first major kicks off this week.
After winning his maiden major title at the U.S. Open in September, the muscle-strapped DeChambeau was a favorite to pick up the green jacket in November at the Masters, which was delayed by seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the picturesque course quickly humbled the 27-year-old American, who boldly claimed he saw the famous par-72 layout as a par-67 but finished 18 strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, struggling with unexplained dizziness.
"You don't mess with the golf gods... whenever you start thinking it's easy, that's when you're in big trouble," twice U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst Andy North told reporters ahead of this year's tournament, which is back in its usual April slot.
Eight-time PGA Tour winner DeChambeau stunned the world of professional golf last year when he returned to the tour after the coronavirus-mandated break with a transformed physique and new-found power, prompting soul-searching from some commentators over how his grip-it-and-rip-it style could change the sport.
"I think it's really interesting what he is trying to accomplish. It didn't work last fall. It doesn't mean it won't work this spring," said North. "No one else can hit it the places he can hit it right now."
That power paid off at Bay Hill last month, where DeChambeau won by one stroke over England's Lee Westwood.
"He felt like this was a path he wanted to go down, it was pretty aggressive — changing his body, changing his swing — it's worked out for him," his swing coach Chris Como told Reuters.
Como, who recently lent his expertise to retailer Golf Galaxy to help golfers fine-tune their swing, said DeChambeau's game was in constant evolution.
"The week after Bay Hill, we met up at the Players (Championship) and he was like, 'Okay, I've got to figure this out, I've got to figure it out,' so he's constantly trying to make tweaks to get better," said Como, who counts 15-time major winner Tiger Woods among his former clients.
"Everyone's trying to get better but he takes it to the nth degree."