Can 2021's biggest hitter bring Augusta to its knees or is the famous Georgia course still more than capable of defending itself?
Will Bryson Break Augusta?
It’s an interesting question given all that the American has done in recent years to take his game, and golf itself, to another dimension.
His transformation of both body and swing speed have rivalled even the disruption from Covid-19 for headline space in this extraordinary period for golf.
His stunning drives at this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational transcended the game itself and his victory at the technical Bay Hill showed his all-round game is as good as his driving.
As the 2021 Masters fast approaches, there is again talk of whether Bryson can break Augusta as he did at Winged Foot in 2020.
After declaring he looks at Augusta as a par 67, a T34th finished position left the American wounded and probably regretting his words.
Wherever you sit on the distance issue in golf, Bryson’s new-found distance has sparked a paradigm shift in his status within the game.
He has gone from slightly wacky scientist to serious contender, despite much scorn from some for doing things the Bryson way.
He has found a way to not only hit the ball so much further, but also keep it in play.
He has been reducing many holes to mere shadows of their former selves.
Going in to 2020’s hugely disrupted season, DeChambeau was ranked 14th in the world and he arrived in 6th place ahead of the 2020 Masters.
Going into the 2021 Masters he ranks one place better in 5th, but perhaps of greater interest are his Major results.
Before 2020 he had a best Major finish of T15th in the 2016 US Open, with nearly as many missed cuts as made.
Now a Major player
In the first two Majors of 2020, he finished T4th at the PGA before winning the US Open.
His 2020 Masters fell flat of expectation, and his T34th finish was a decent result after only marginally missing the cut line.
But it was at last year’s U.S Open where Bryson’s power really broke the back of a notoriously tough course.
He overpowered the notoriously difficult Winged Foot course with an imperious display.
He finished six clear and was the only man against whom the course’s fearsome par of 70 was unable to defend itself.
So, what of Augusta National this time around?strokes
It boasts very different defences to Winged Foot. There is none of the cloying, thick rough that lined Winged Foot’s fairways, and Tiger has proved in the past that you can spray it around a bit and still get the job done.
The problem with this is that, while you may not lose your ball, being out of position is more of a problem than at many courses.
The ultra-fast, sloping greens are Augusta’s ingenious last line of defence. It is often imperative that you find the right part of the green with your approach shot.
To do that, you must first put your drive in the right place.
If you’re out of position, it may well be impossible to hit the right part of the green, or indeed any part of it.
Then you’re relying on the brilliance of your putting and short game, which Tiger, of course, possessed in abundance – 2005’s 16th hole chip-in being the prime example.
So, can Bryson break Augusta? I don’t think so.
First, although he currently tops the driving distance stats at 321 yards, he ranks 138th for driving accuracy, meaning that if he goes at every drive flat-out he could be out of position too often to find the right parts of the greens.
That would place a huge emphasis on his putting.
However, his current rank of 138th for driving accuracy is a marked improvement on the 2020 season.
Perhaps Bryson has managed to hone his accuracy in the five months away from Augusta National.
Putting holds the key, not power…
Bryson is no slouch on the greens – he finished 10th in ‘strokes gained putting’ in 2019. So far this year, he’s dropped slightly into 38th position.
But the Augusta stats for the last three years show that he has struggled more than many on the course’s idiosyncratic putting surfaces.
And, perhaps crucially, Augusta National does not permit the very detailed green-reading books that many players – Bryson, of course, included – use elsewhere.
So, he won’t be getting the full range of assistance he typically turns to on the greens.
Bryson may have dented Winged Foot’s pride in 2020, but I don’t think he will do the same to Augusta National, with the record score to par this century coming from a player at the opposite end of golf’s power spectrum to DeChambeau – Jordan Spieth.
Spieth was a wizard on the greens en route to his 18-under tally in 2015, rolling in a record 28 birdies for the week.
And if I’m wrong and Bryson does break Augusta in 2021 , you can rest assured that certain Bryson-proofing measures will be in place in time for next year’s tournament!