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Two tests, same attack

U.S. Open 2021: Bryson DeChambeau has 'the Winged Foot plan' going at Torrey in his quest for a repeat win

June 19, 2021

Bryson DeChambeau watches his shot from the 15th tee during the third round of the 2021 U.S. Open.

Ezra Shaw

SAN DIEGO — Architect Rees Jones and company thought they were being cheeky with what they did on the 17th hole of the Torrey Pines South Course. In the recent renovation to prepare for the 121st U.S. Open, one of the most notable changes was creating a new tee box at the par 4 that teetered on the edge of the nearby canyon. They shifted fairway bunkers and cut a notch into the left side of the fairway. Mission: Force players to drive as far left as possible and bring disaster into play.

Too bad they did all the work about the time Bryson DeChambeau starting guzzling protein shakes and hitting the weights. As DeChambeau has done for the better part of 18 months, he made the notion of any kind of defense on any golf course look silly on Saturday in the third round of the U.S. Open.

Eschewing anything other than basically going for the green on the 436-yard 17th, DeChambeau aimed straight over the canyon. And when his ball came to earth just feet from the scrub brush and red sandstone, the squirrels were seen scrambling to their burrows.

So, too, might the rest of this field by the time Sunday night comes along.

DeChambeau has a sizable chance to win the U.S. Open for the second time in just nine months, and not even back-to-back champions Bobby Jones, Curtis Strange or Brooks Koepka can say that.

On Saturday, the eight-time PGA Tour champion produced his best round at Torrey Pines with a three-under-par 68 that has him tied for fourth with Rory McIlroy at three under. They’re only two shots back of tri-leaders Mackenzie Hughes, Louis Oosthuizen and Russell Henley.

The fact that the 38-year-old Oosthuizen—not a bomber by any means—and two shorter knockers in Hughes and Henley are at the top speaks to how palatable a test this has been for pure ball-strikers.

But then chasing closely are two of the longest hitters in the game in DeChambeau, 27, and McIlroy, 31, who have managed to pound away while still managing to scramble for the occasional birdie while avoiding big numbers.

McIlroy badly hooked his drive into the canyon at the 15th on Saturday and saved bogey. DeChambeau did him one better at the seventh, where he powered his tee shot into the canyon, took a drop, and hit a superb approach to seven feet to save par.

In many ways, Winged Foot and Torrey Pines could not be more different. The former is peppered with doglegs, sloped greens and lush rough; the latter is mostly straight as a bowling alley and is a greenskeeper’s nightmare, with about a half-dozen different kind of grasses.

None of that changed DeChambeau’s approach: “I think the Winged Foot play is kind of what’s going on this week so far.”

It is truly impressive. DeChambeau is second in the field in driving distance, averaging 336 yards—second only to 21-year-old South African Wilco Nienaber at 350. But let’s note here that Nienaber shot 80 in the third round with three double bogeys, while DeChambeau has been excellent on the greens, at fifth in the field in strokes gained/putting (6.23).

The putting stat is striking, considering that DeChambeau admitted that he has struggled to accept the fluky nature of balls bouncing all over the buds of late-afternoon Poa annua. Team Bryson has no way to account for that in its calculations, which is clearly why he’s only played in two Farmers Insurance Opens at Torrey Pines. His scores on the South in two missed cuts: 76 and 78.

“The greens are tough to putt on,” DeChambeau said. “They're a little bumpy, just because it's Poa annua and that's part of the game. I recognize it, and you've got to embrace it. If you don't embrace it and stay patient … that's a part of the test, everybody has to deal with it. So it's all about who gets luckier.”

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