|Date: 12-15 November Venue: Augusta National|
|Coverage: Radio and text commentary online with in-play clips. Daily highlights on BBC Two – full details here|
Defending Masters champion Tiger Woods says the dramatic changes Bryson DeChambeau has made in pursuit of more distance have “never been done before”.
DeChambeau arrives at Augusta as the favourite after overpowering Winged Foot to win the US Open in September.
Adding 40lbs in weight in 12 months, he is now the longest driver on the PGA Tour and is toying with the idea of using a 48-inch driver this week.
“What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible,” said Woods.
“We have all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time.”
Woods won the first of his five Masters titles as a 21-year-old in 1997 and was renowned for his distance, though he says that came in a different era for club technology.
“Bryson has put in the time, he’s put in the work,” added the American, who is now 44.
“What he’s done in the gym has been incredible and what he’s done on the range.
“What he’s done with his entire team, to be able to optimise that one club and transform his game and hit the ball as far as he has, it’s never been done before.
“In ’97, I hit it far. As I got bigger and filled out and tried to get stronger, it was not to hit the ball further, it was to be more consistent and to be able to practice longer.
“Actually I got a little bit bit shorter as I got into my mid and late 20s.”
DeChambeau is averaging drives of 344 yards on the PGA Tour this year, but hit a shot 403 yards in the air in practice. He tested the 48-inch driver, which has the longest shaft permitted, on Monday and said results were “really promising”.
“I am not 100% sure if I will put it in play yet because of the unknown, it is so close to the Masters,” said the 27-year-old, who is renowned for his scientific approach to the game.
“But if it is an improvement on every facet of launch conditions, then I don’t see why not?”
A longer shaft helps generate more clubhead speed at impact and that translates to hitting the ball further. And the closer he can get to greens off the tee, the more control he can have with his approach shots.
The world number six added: “I tested it on Monday for the first time. We have gone through at least three or four iterations of the shaft and this is the most promising one yet.
“I had about four or five miles an hour ball speed increase, I got my swing speed up to 143/144mph on the range, and the dispersion is the same, the spin rate was even down.
“So it looks really promising right now. I did not expect it to work yesterday, I was like ‘this is going to take even more time’, but it did work.”
However, the 27-year-old says whether he can win a first Green Jacket this week will not be solely down to how far he can hit the ball.
“I can hit it as far as I want to, but it comes down to putting and chipping,” said DeChambeau.
“That is one of the things I think sometimes people struggle to see. If I don’t putt it well at the US Open, don’t wedge it well, don’t hit my irons close, I don’t win that tournament.”
Nineteen months have passed since Woods, who has had numerous back operations in recent years, won his 15th major title, and first for 11 years, by claiming a fifth Green Jacket.
“I’m still getting chills just thinking about it,” he said. “(The) feelings, coming up 18 and knowing that all I have to do is just two putt that little 15-footer and to see my family there and my mom and my kids and all of the people that helped support me or were there for me in the tough times.”
Referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has delayed this year’s Masters to November, he added: “It’s not how I wanted to retain the jacket for this long. Obviously this has been an unprecedented circumstance we’re all dealing with.
“We are all very fortunate to be able to compete and this whole day is awfully special.”
Four-times major champion Brooks Koepka missed September’s US Open during a two-month injury layoff, during which he had stem cell therapy injections in his left knee to help repair a partially torn patella tendon and also had a cortisone injection in his ailing hip.
“Everything’s fine. I feel normal. Knee feels good. Hip, I haven’t had an issue with,” he said. “Nice to have those two months rehabbing in San Diego and getting everything straightened away.”
Chasing a first Masters win, the 30-year-old added: “The one thing I’ve learned over the years is just where to miss your golf shots.
“You watch guys, you talk to guys that have played here, and you really see those little nuances, those little differences in just hitting it to the same exact spot every time.”
Can debutants make Masters history?
No player has won the Masters at the first attempt since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Collin Morikawa, who won the US PGA Championship on just his second major appearance in August, and fellow American Matthew Wolff, runner-up in the US Open, are looking to change that.
“I’m not afraid of any course,” said 23-year-old Morikawa, the world number four. “I believe I can dissect a course and figure out what is my best opportunity to shoot a good score.
“Experience never hurts. I wish I had played here 15, 20 times, I wish I had that knowledge. That’s going to grow over the years I keep coming back and I keep playing, but for now I have to feel like I can still compete with these guys.”
Wolff, 21, has climbed to 14th in the rankings after placing in the top five in the past two majors.
“If there was a time, it would be now,” said Wolff of someone emulating Zoeller. “I think the level of golf out here right now is at an all-time high.
“Because of Covid, it’s unfortunate, but since there are no fans here, I think that can definitely change the dynamic of everything.
“Coming down the stretch with a one-shot lead, it’s definitely a little more relaxing without thousands and thousands of fans sitting behind the green watching your every shot.”
Will hooded Hatton change major luck?
England’s Tyrrell Hatton arrives on the back of a successful season, claiming his first PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and also winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
But the 29-year-old is yet to replicate that performance in the majors, missing the cut at the PGA Championship and US Open, with his best finish in three Masters appearances a tie for 44th in 2018.
“For me, 2020 on the golf course has been a very special year,” said Hatton, who suggested he may wear his trademark hoodie if the weather dictates at Augusta. “I think coming into a major, this is the best form that I’ve had.”