Who's chasing Bryson DeChambeau? Looking ahead to Friday at the Masters

It was a busy opening day at Augusta National Golf Club, and we’re not even done with the first round. Tee times were set back about two hours after Thursday began with a weather delay and left 27 players who could not finish, but there was still plenty of action to go around.

The best player in the world showed up and immediately reminded us yet again why he has that title, while a couple of players who have struggled at this course reversed their fate in the span of a round, including the surprising first-round leader.

Gusts of wind made conditions tough on a golf course that already requires precision, making any score under par not only impressive but particularly important given that Friday is expected to bring more winds and a firmer surface.

With some players scheduled to play up to 26 holes of golf Friday, here are some things to watch for in the second round of the Masters.

Can a more patient Bryson DeChambeau compete at Augusta?

Augusta has not been kind to DeChambeau. Since being the low amateur at the 2016 Masters, DeChambeau’s best finish has been a tie for 29, and he has missed the cut the past two years. But after a first-round 65, DeChambeau holds the lead heading into Friday and seems to have figured out a way to play the course.

“A lot of patience is required around this golf course,” DeChambeau said. “​​I’ve tried 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.”

The golfer who has, in the past, sought out distance at all costs and gone through plenty of swing and equipment changes was nowhere to be found Thursday. Instead, DeChambeau talked about being 30 now, getting the right equipment and just focusing on a single swing feel, not to mention a healthy dose of perspective to go along with it all.

“I’m not old, I still feel like I’m a youngster,” DeChambeau said. “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 OK.”

Let’s be clear: The powerful, quirky golfer is still in there, even if it is in a slighter frame. DeChambeau still bombs it — he averaged over 300 yards per drive Thursday — and he still has his oddities. In his news conference Thursday, he mentioned everything from Snapchat to his YouTube content helping amateurs to Dude Perfect.

He’s not your typical golfer, but that might be exactly what the sport needs. And if it has all gotten DeChambeau to a place where he can once again compete for majors, then the 2021 U.S. Open winner might have finally found the right recipe to add to his cookbook.

Intentional or not, the top three players in the world were all playing in back-to-back groups Thursday. Only one of them left the golf course happy.

Scheffler remains inevitable. The No. 1 player in the world didn’t look to have his A-game, especially on the front nine, and yet he made the turn at 2 under and proceeded to play the back nine in 4 under, taking him to 6 under on the bogey-free day and putting him in second place behind DeChambeau.

Scheffler notably holed out from the back bunker on 12 for birdie and made birdies on 13, 15 and 16, too. If this is just him getting started, the tournament might already be over.

“The majors are always very difficult challenges and I like playing against the best players,” Scheffler said. “These tournaments I think excite me a little bit, and I try to use that energy for some enhanced focus.”

Rory McIlroy remains, well, Rory McIlroy. Opening rounds at Augusta and the four-time major champion have never gotten along: McIlroy is shooting over 72 on average during his first two rounds at the Masters. On Thursday, he missed a 5-footer for birdie on the opening hole and made bogey on the par-5 second hole. It was not an ideal start.

But he bounced back, making birdies on 3, 8, 12 and 14. A bogey on 17 dampened his finish and even though he’s six back of the leader, shooting better than his average could bode well for a Friday charge.

“That’s sort of embarrassing if it is, but that’s a good thing,” McIlroy said of this being his lowest opening round at Augusta. “Yeah, I guess I kept it together. I stuck to my game plan.”

Defending Masters champion Rahm, now with LIV Golf, didn’t look like his dominant self Thursday, opening up with a disappointing 73 that included an uncharacteristic five bogeys, including two 3-putts on the back nine. Whether it was rust from not playing as many tournaments in the lead-up to Augusta as he did last year or simply a bad day, Rahm has some work to do if he wants to compete.

“Unfortunately on that back nine I missed a few too many shots,” Rahm said. “Never really in a good position to give myself the best chance for birdies and ended up with what could have been a little bit better of a score. It’s just too bad.”

How’s the weather holding up?

After the morning rain dissipated and the sun reemerged, the wind at Augusta took center stage. Throughout most of Thursday, the wind reached near 20 mph with plenty of gusts to boot. All you had to do was glance at the trees or the yellow flags to know the conditions were not easy.

“It’s a difficult golf course, that’s all I can say,” Rahm said.

“That’s the thing about this place, is that you get so much wind, so much swirling,” Will Zalatoris, who shot 70 on Thursday, said. “It’s playing brutal, but it’s a lot of fun right now. The course was very fair.”

Whether it was shots into the par-3 fourth hole coming up short or approaches into the par-4 18 hole going long, players had a hard time judging the gusts. Scheffler said he felt like the winds on the back nine were particularly affecting. On the 10th hole, he hit a 4-iron that came up short where he was playing for “35 yards of hurt” only to go long on 12 before holing out.

To further underline the point, during his news conference after his round, Scheffler credited his caddie Ted Scott for simply guessing right on the wind. For golf being a game predicated on precision, Thursday at Augusta was an inexact science.

“The conditions are tricky,” McIlroy said. “Hard to fully commit to shots out there at times just because the wind is — if it’s across, it feels down at one point and then into. It’s hard to commit to where the wind direction is at times.”

“Even committing to reads on greens,” McIlroy continued. “Because some of those exposed greens the wind can affect the reads on those.”

“The wind was all over the place,” Tiger Woods said. “It was one of the most tricky days that I’ve ever been a part of. It was hard to get a beat not only on what direction it was going, but the intensity, and it kept switching all over the place. … The timing was affecting putts on the greens. It was a very difficult day.”

Friday won’t be much easier. In some ways, it could be harder. With no overnight rain expected, the greens could be firmer than they were Thursday, and winds are expected to range from 12 to 20 mph. Scores should and likely will be higher.

Outside of DeChambeau, which LIV guys can climb the leaderboard?

Four LIV golfers seem to be well positioned for good showings Friday.

Joaquín Niemann finished his round strong, making birdies on 15 and 17 to card a 2 under. Niemann’s ballstriking capabilities should bode well if the wind continues. The same thing can be said for Cameron Smith, who played a steady round Friday, finishing at 1 under.

“I’d like to think today I had some of my best stuff and that was a good sign,” Smith said. “But probably over the next few days I’m not going to have my best stuff, and you’ve got to grind it out and stay in the tournament.”

Speaking of grinding, both Patrick Reed and Tyrrell Hatton will have to come back to the course early Friday and try to continue their under-par rounds despite the delay. Hatton, who never seems to play well here, finished 14 holes at 3 under, while Reed — who already has a green jacket — also finished 14 holes at 2 under.

An even par round for Sergio Garcia and 1 over for Phil Mickelson mean both are still somewhat in the mix after one day. And let’s not forget about what Mickelson did last year, rising all the way up to second place Sunday. It’s hard to count him out at Augusta.

If there was one player who was disappointing among the LIV crew Thursday, it was Brooks Koepka. The reigning PGA Championship winner who finished runner-up last year played only 11 holes Thursday but left the course with the same score he had when he arrived: even par. There’s still a lot of golf to play for Koepka; he needs it.

What can we expect to see from Woods?

For the second year in a row, weather might have put Woods behind the 8-ball. After last year’s weather delays due to storms threw Woods’ recovery plan into disarray and eventually led to his withdrawal because of plantar fasciitis Sunday morning, a 2-hour, 30-minute weather delay Thursday ensured he would not be able to finish his opening round this year.

Woods teed off at 3:47 p.m. ET, and the first round was suspended at 7:51 p.m. ET, just after he made a par putt on the 13th hole to sit at 1 under. As a result, Woods will return Friday morning at 7:50 a.m. ET to finish off his last five holes before also likely playing a full 18 the same day.

For what it’s worth, Woods looked remarkably steady during his stint Thursday, making birdies on the par-4 first hole and the par-5 eighth hole and carding only one bogey. His walk looked strong, and he hit several drives that went farther than 320 yards. His approach game, for the most part, did not appear to have much rust either.

Now the real challenge begins. Woods will have to physically recover from Thursday while also preparing to play 23 holes Friday. For a player who has already said he aches daily and needs plenty of work just to play 18 competitive holes, it won’t be easy. Thursday showed yet again why his game can hang with the best, but as always, it’ll be up to his body to determine whether he can perform and maybe even compete.

Who is lurking?

As stats guru Justin Ray pointed out on X, 26 of the past 30 winners at Augusta have been at or within 5 shots of the lead after the opening round. The first round might not be over, so while we can’t forget about everyone who isn’t at least 2 under, here are some names that could rise up the leaderboard in the second round.

Wyndham Clark was, at one point during his round, 3 under with nine holes left. After dunking it in the water on 15, Clark dropped all the way to 1 over by the end of his first ever round at Augusta. He quickly shifted the narrative, however, by dropping perhaps the quote of the day.

“Yeah, we’ve got 54 holes. In LIV Golf they only play 54, so I like my chances,” Clark said. “We’ve got a lot of golf left. As you can see, someone shot 7 under. I could do that tomorrow.”

Confidence is clearly something Clark isn’t lacking, and the one big mistake he made Thursday seems correctable, making me think he’s bound to bounce up the leaderboard come Friday. And if not, hopefully he can keep making news on the dais.

There are plenty of players who scored better than Clark and are lurking after Thursday. Though he played only 13 holes with Woods, Max Homa put together a strong start to his major bid by going 4 under during that stretch.

Zalatoris, who has two top-10 finishes at Augusta in as many starts, also touched 4 under at one point Thursday after an eagle on 13. He bounced back to 2 under to finish his opening round.

Among players who haven’t finished yet, it’s impossible to look past the young Ryder Cup duo of Nicolai Højgaard and Ludvig Åberg. The former skyrocketed up to third place with a score of 5 under through 15 holes before the round was suspended, while the latter didn’t make a bogey through 11 holes and sits at 2 under with seven holes to play Friday morning.

The group at 1 under is particularly strong, too, featuring Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland. Should DeChambeau and Scheffler come back down to earth a bit, this could very quickly become a crowded leaderboard.

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