The Masters leader? It’s the ‘little bit smarter’ version of Bryson DeChambeau


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bryson DeChambeau trudged up the left side of the 17th fairway at Augusta National with a steady but swift pace Thursday. He held his chin up, eyes zeroed in on the front left pin position ahead. But when the LIV golfer reached his ball, his gaze suddenly darted upward and to his side.

He pressed his palms together and raised them to his lips. DeChambeau was gesturing to the pine tree that kindly gave his drive a nudge back toward the fairway. The patrons — several rows deep for the major champion/YouTuber — chuckled at his acknowledgment of the lucky break.

Ball don’t lie. DeChambeau knocked the approach shot to 25 feet and sunk the putt for birdie, his eighth of the day.

Should DeChambeau’s 7-under 65 to lead the opening round at Augusta National come as a shock? That depends on how you look at it.

Golf’s mad scientist wasn’t high on many favorites lists as he headed into his eight Masters this week, and there are a couple of possible reasons for that.

First, DeChambeau is a member of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league — he has been since 2022, when he joined shortly after its launch for a reported $100 million. Since the start-up tour’s inception, there has always been a visibility gap for LIV golfers who aren’t winning LIV’s events. So although DeChambeau came into this week with three consecutive top-10 finishes, his recent form wasn’t exactly a talking point. His historic 58 at LIV Golf’s Greenbrier event was, however. But that was eight months ago.


Bryson DeChambeau drove the golf ball as well as he ever has on Thursday. (Rob Schumacher / The Athletic)

Then there’s DeChambeau’s complicated relationship with Augusta National. In 2016, DeChambeau engineered his own “hello world” moment at that Masters, when he won low amateur honors with a T21 finish and enthralled the golf world with his single-length irons. Since then DeChambeau has failed to crack the top 30 at the Allister MacKenzie design.

And in 2020 — during his infamous bomb-and-gauge bulking phase — DeChambeau made a controversial statement about the historic routing that enraged many: The SMU product said that he was treating the course as “a par 67” rather than a par 72.

“I can reach all the par-5’s in 2, no problem,” he said at the time. “If the conditions stay the way they are, that’s what I feel like par is for me.”

When DeChambeau’s subsequent finishes were T34, T46, missed cut, missed cut, he really started to get flack for it, among the series of missteps and controversial moments he made in the last four years.

To summarize: DeChambeau and Augusta National typically don’t get along very well.

Until now. DeChambeau tore apart the course on a blustering Thursday afternoon, making three consecutive birdies to start his round, and five within his final seven holes. When he wasn’t picking up shots, he was saving them: DeChambeau made saves on holes 5, 6, and 7, holing three consecutive par-putts that aren’t for the faint of heart.

One word kept popping up in DeChambeau’s press conference as he recapped his career low round at the Masters: Patience.

“You feel like it’s gettable, you see it’s right in front of you, but it’s just tricky out here,” DeChambeau said. “For me, as my game has progressed, I’ve learned to be a little bit smarter out there on the golf course and not try to go for broke and go for every flag, but place it in the right position.”

DeChambeau hit 15 of 18 greens on Thursday and 10 of 14 fairways, gaining eight total strokes on the field.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked about DeChambeau’s opening round at Augusta, because a different DeChambeau arrived at the major venue on Thursday morning. He’s 30 now, slimmer, and, most importantly, wiser.

“I’m not old, I still feel like I’m a youngster, but it’s definitely taken time to get comfortable and getting to a place where, you know what, no matter what happens today, I’m okay,” DeChambeau said. “I have a great life outside of the game of golf. My friends are still going to be my friends and the people that love me the most are still going to love me. And focusing on playing a fun game. You know, taking that perspective has definitely enlightened me a little bit and allowed me to play a little more free.”

DeChambeau still has the old DeChambeau in him. He’s using a Krank driver — a special club made for long drive competitors. Over the summer, he said it makes him “feel like a brute” he can hit it so straight. He’ll still throw an out-of-pocket comment about the LIV Golf/PGA Tour divide every once in a while. Recently, he’s been saying that since “day one” he has been advocating for the game to “come back together,” despite being one of the first players to defect from the PGA Tour. Bryson is still doing Bryson things.

But he also said he regrets some of the actions that would fall in that category, the “67” comment being first and foremost among them.

“I was able to conquer a very difficult golf course today,” DeChambeau said. “Regarding the 67 comment, you know, you mess up. I’m not a perfect person. Everybody messes up. You learn from your mistake, and that was definitely one.”

A 7-under 65, a heightened ability to exercise patience and admission of imperfection: There’s an evolved DeChambeau plotting his way around Augusta National. The disruptor is reigning it in, and he’s leading the Masters because of it.

(Top photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)





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