Tiger Woods has voiced deep admiration for the remarkable transformation of Bryson DeChambeau’s body and career, with the 15-times major champion insisting the 27-year-old has made strides unheard of in golf.
It is DeChambeau, and not Woods the defending champion, who is the hot topic of conversation at this week’s Masters. The Californian’s incredible driving length – the combination of fitness work and equipment tweaks – could see Augusta National played as never before. DeChambeau has even claimed the Masters venue’s par of 72 doesn’t apply. “I’m looking at it as a par 67 because I can reach all the par fives in two, no problem,” he insisted. Comparisons have been drawn with Woods, who powered his way to Masters glory in 1997.
Woods played in DeChambeau’s company during a Monday practice round. A day later, he was effusive about the recently-crowned US Open champion’s development. “Bryson has put in the time, he has put in the work,” said Woods. “What he’s done in the gym has been incredible. What he’s done on the range and what he’s done with his entire team to be able to optimise that one club [driver] and transform his game and the ability to hit the ball as far as he has and in as short a span as he has, it’s never been done before.
“I had speed in ‘97, I hit it far. As I got bigger and I filled out and tried to get stronger, it was to not hit the ball further. It was to be more consistent and to be able to practice longer. Actually I got a little bit shorter as I got into my mid-20s and late-20s. Probably the most speed I ever had, I was 20 years old. So 21, I still had a little bit more speed, but as I got a little bit bigger, I didn’t hit it as far but I got better.
“What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible, and we have all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time. It’s never been done before.”
Woods was similarly praiseworthy towards Augusta National after Lee Elder, the first black man to participate in the Masters, was named as an honorary starter for 2021. Elder will also have scholarship programmes started in his name at Augusta’s behest.
“Lee was a pioneer,” said Woods. “He was the one that broke the colour barrier here and paved the way for players of colour like myself to be able to play this event. It’s ironic that he did it in ‘75, I was born in ‘75, and when I won in ‘97, he was on the back of the green.
“To be able to see him and have him as our honorary starter, it’s awfully special and important in the history of the event but also for me personally, it’s probably even more special.”
As rather sums up this sporting year, Woods’s attempt to retain the Green Jacket will begin in strange circumstances. He is among those drawn to start round one from the 10th tee, at 7.55am on Thursday, alongside Shane Lowry and the amateur Andy Ogletree. Rory McIlroy, who is among the later day one starters, has Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay for company. DeChambeau has been paired with Louis Oosthuizen and Jon Rahm.
Woods was visibly and uncharacteristically emotional when recalling his fifth Augusta victory last year. “I’m still getting chills just thinking about it,” he said. “Coming up 18, knowing that all I have to do is just two putt that little 15 footer and to see my family there – my mum and my kids and all of the people that helped support me or were there for me in the tough times – I was walking up there trying not to lose it, and still saying: ‘Hey, I’ve still got to two putt this.’
“Then I walked off the back of the green, to see [Woods’s won] Charlie there, just opened up our arms, it meant a lot to me and still does. It just reminded me so much of me and my dad and to come full circle like that still makes me a little teary.”