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There was a strange quietness on the grounds of Caves Valley Friday morning. With play not beginning until nearly 10:00 a.m. EDT, spectators occupied the practice areas hoping to catch a glance of some of the world’s best as they prepared for the day ahead.
With a pre-tournament investment in Bryson DeChambeau, I figured the group of he, Harris English, and Jordan Spieth would be an ideal way to enjoy my third coffee of the morning. Aggressive from the start, the big, bad golfer pulled driver on the opening hole much to the delight of the Baltimore crowd.
Nearly driving the green, DeChambeau got up-and-down, a common theme that may be overlooked when discussing today’s events. Taking advantage of the opening handshake, he marched to the second, splitting the fairway, and hitting his approach inside of 15-feet. As I was pondering internally that golf should not be this easy, DeChambeau narrowly missed his eagle chance, making me feel just slightly better about my own game.
Having promised myself to never walk down the hill to the 3rd green and having had initial plans to follow the likes of Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy, I had no choice but to break my own rule. A two-putt par on the difficult par-3 was nothing compared to English’s near ace, but nevertheless, DeChambeau stood at 2-under through three.
Past his counterparts by a significant amount on the next, DeChambeau laced another long-iron, and this time righted the wrong from No. 2, converting his eagle opportunity. With the brave souls who made the trek to the low area of the front-nine buzzing, the two-time postseason victor flared a three-wood short of the drivable par-4 5th’s green.
Hardly his best effort, he left himself a tester for birdie and once again converted, getting to 5-under through his first five holes. Knowing this part of the golf course was gettable, I didn’t think much of the start as many players had been getting out of the gates fast this week.
Yet after a par on the par-3 6th, the 7th-hole stood out as the moment in the round where the tide turned from a good round to a memorable round. Once again finding the fairway with the driver, DeChambeau was last to play his second. A sucker pin by the definition, sitting just over a ridge on the back edge of the green, DeChambeau saw both of his playing competitors go long.
Not Bryson though, sticking a wedge to near tap-in range, the world No. 6 now stood at 6-under through his first seven. Back to the meat of the golf course, the crowd grew with murmurs circulating of what possibly could unfold over the next hours.
In what had been a positive crowd the entire front-nine, the first insult was hurled as he was walking to his birdie look on the par-4 8th. Appearing to be by himself and one, two, maybe five adult beverages too deep, screams of “Brooksy!” and “Wait till the arm-lock is banned!” were thrown DeChambeau’s way by the lonely onlooker.
Poetically, DeChambeau converted the unlikely par-breaker, getting to 7-under on the day right as the spectator was escorted off the property. The whispers continued as members of the media began to walk with the group, leaving other potential storylines to witness a front-nine 29.
Hiking to the 10th, there was a moment where I contemplated stopping for a quick bite having only had a small breakfast. Alas, I chose not to in what may have been my smartest decision of the week. Missing his first fairway of the day, some ended their time with the group, but my young legs soldiered on.
A strong par on the tucked-away par-4 10th was followed by a seven-hole stretch that was as memorable as it was rowdy. Hitting driver on the par-4 11th over water, the cheers for the same club selection just two hours earlier were multiplied by a factor of ten.
With his ball over the green, we sauntered through the 11th fairway. Walking alongside the officer at hand, we struck up a conversation as we had been doing most of the day. Asking how he ended up with DeChambeau, the officer replied, “I had the opportunity to be with Rahm, McIlroy, or Bryson for the week. I chose Bryson because I wanted to see shots just like that.”
The choice of driver proved to be a fruitful decision as DeChambeau snuck his birdie-putt in the right-side of the hole. Now at 8-under for the day, the two honorable observers gave me a look. Both giant golf fans, the father-son duo hailing from Chicago knew with two par-5’s remaining that the unattainable was possible.
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Once again splitting the fairway and picking his tee up near seconds after impact, Kevin Na walking in putts came to me as the only comparison to how confident DeChambeau looked with the big stick in hand. Pin high in two, just in the first-cut, DeChambeau left his eagle chance right in the heart, but three-feet too short. He would settle for birdie before escaping with a par on the long par-3 13th.
Arriving to the par-4 14th, DeChambeau did not have the honors for the first-time all day. Instead, English, off a birdie, pulled three-wood, an action DeChambeau would never imagine doing. In what may have been the break of the day, DeChambeau’s drive rolled through the fairway bunker, leaving him an awkward albeit gettable stance in the left rough.
Playing the ball off his back foot, he knocked his wedge shot inside of the 10-feet and converted for yet another birdie. Now at 10-under, you could see in DeChambeau’s face that he now knew he had a realistic chance to card a sacred 59.
Yet it was at the very next hole where DeChambeau would have his worst swing of the day. Despite the wayward drive, he left himself on the correct side of the dogleg right. With a good angle from 170 yards, DeChambeau called upon his pitching wedge to give himself an opportunity to get to 11-under. It did just that, as shouts of “59” echoed around the 15th green.
However the birdie look would fall by the wayside, meaning DeChambeau would head up the hill to the 16th tee needing to run the table to grasp the coveted number. Missing the fairway right, DeChambeau once again received a fantastic break, drawing a bare lie from just inside 250 yards, he took advantage.
A kick-in eagle courtesy of his 8-iron was the result as 58 now appeared possible out of thin air. With Jim Furyk trembling, DeChambeau took dead aim. Attacking the tucked pin on the downhill par-3 17th, he left himself no room for error and barely cleared the penalty area. With a chance to get to 13-under, he started to early-walk after the putt ala Woods at Torrey in ’08, yet burning the edge, he headed to the closing hole in search of one last birdie.
Needing his best swing of the day, DeChambeau delivered. A tight draw off the creek lining the right side of the fairway, his drive carried 335 yards uphill. He stepped up to the plate once again, spinning his wedge shot to just outside of six-feet. Six-feet for 59. Six-feet for 13-under. Six-feet that was not meant to be as DeChambeau knew from the go that his putt for glory was left all the way.
Missing out on the rare opportunity for history, a round of 12-under 60 was the result, catapulting DeChambeau into the solo lead at 16-under as play was suspended Friday evening. At +250 at PointsBet Sportsbook, DeChambeau is listed behind only Jon Rahm on the odds board. The world No. 1 sits one-stroke behind the American as he will begin his Saturday with a birdie look on the par-5 16th, still having to complete his second round.
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