AUSTIN — On the par-5 sixth hole in his opening-round match against Richard Bland at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Bryson DeChambeau blasted a 372-yard drive down the right side of the fairway, hit the 199-yard approach to eight feet and two-putted for a simple birdie. Bland found himself in trouble off the tee, and never had a chance to recover. It was vintage DeChambeau—a snapshot of what makes him such a world-class talent.
Unfortunately, it was one of few moments of brilliance in an otherwise sloppy match as DeChambeau returned from a six-week injury absence after withdrawing from the Saudi International in early February. The match against Bland ended in a tie, but that was mostly because the 49-year-old Englishman competing in the event for the first time threw away every chance to take an advantage against his opponent. That started on the first hole when DeChambeau blasted his opening drive way right into a concession tent and still managed to halve the hole with bogey.
One of the lowlights for DeChambeau came on the third hole, when he hit a 21-foot birdie putt exactly 11 feet, and stared at the poor effort in a state of mystification. His par putt raced four feet past the hole, and he was lucky to make bogey, but in what became a familiar script, Bland couldn't do better than bogey either. The 15th hole might have seen both players at their lowest, when they each missed five-foot par efforts in what could have been a critical hole for each of them. All told, they tied each of the last eight holes, playing a gettable stretch in the stroke-play equivalent of one over.
In the midst of it, DeChambeau was also the beneficiary of a strange rules scenario in which officials gave him relief near a sprinkler head, but only because Thomas Pieters had been in the same spot earlier and after being denied similar relief, forced a change from the PGA Tour.
"I had a rules official come up, and he clarified to me that Thomas didn't get relief," DeChambeau said. "He goes, 'yeah, but we changed it because it just wasn't right,' and apparently they can do that in match play. I feel really bad for him, and lucky break for me."
In comments made to the Golf Channel Tuesday, DeChambeau said he hurt his hand playing ping pong in Saudi Arabia, and the injuries that caused him to enter and then withdraw before the start of both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship earlier this month included a fractured hamate bone in his left hand and a torn labrum in his left hip. He said he didn't touch a club until last Friday, and he said that he still lacks confidence in his wrist movements, particularly on drives. In terms of lingering pain, though, he said that the bigger problem was acutally fatigue—this was his first appearance on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January—after the match with Bland.
"They're fine," he said of his hand and hip. "Obviously, because I haven't walked 18 holes in six weeks, it's a bit tiring. … But as of right now it's holding up well, and I pray it holds up the whole way."
Despite the injury, he said after his round that he's considering participating in a long-drive competition after the Masters, and that no, he wasn't worried about further damage to his body.
"When I get to Augusta where I'm close to 200 [mph] ball speed again," he said, "there's a possibility that the next week, if nothing gives out and it's structurally stable, that I'll do that. I want to do it. I love it. … I know this is where my home is, but at the end of the day I want to expand out and try and give people a little bit of a show, too."