Bryson DeChambeau’s drive Saturday at the sixth hole at Bay Hill thrilled him as much as it did the fans, which is saying something, given the roar of those in attendance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.
In part, that’s because there was much more at stake Sunday, with DeChambeau holding a one-shot lead at the time in the tournament’s final round, as opposed to still having 30 holes to play. The drive also landed a bit closer to the hole; he was credited with a comical 377 yards of distance, as compared with a mere 370 the day before.
The PGA Tour’s leader in driving distance this season, just as he was in 2020, DeChambeau could be on his way to changing the game almost as much as he has changed his body by gaining around 40 pounds of muscle. He certainly showed at Bay Hill that he could pull off a shot with aplomb that almost no one else dared try.
Even DeChambeau chose caution Thursday and Friday, because wind was blowing toward the tee box at the par-5 No. 6. “There was a high expectation level of me trying to go for the green there, and it was a little pressure that I wasn’t expecting,” he said after carding a 67 in Thursday’s first round. “But, no, it was fun. The crowds were great with it. I pulled out an iron as a joke off the tee box. And for me, it was just too much off the right and more into the wind than anything.”
On Saturday, the conditions were right, and DeChambeau let ’er rip. As his ball sailed majestically over the pond — requiring a carry of approximately 325 yards — he raised his arms in triumph.
As it turned out, Saturday’s drive went farther than needed, rolling through the fairway and into the right rough, leaving the 27-year-old California native right of the green and facing a tricky approach. He was able to get to the front of the green and two-putt for a memorable birdie.
“I felt like a kid again, for sure. It was exciting,” DeChambeau said Saturday, after his 68 put him a shot behind 54-hole leader Lee Westwood. “Especially when you pull it off. It was almost like winning a tournament. … I got the same chills and feeling when I saw it clear and there was no splash. I was, like, ‘Yes!’
“I gave the fans what they wanted.”
Westwood, playing in the final group Sunday with DeChambeau, gave the fans something as well. After the 47-year-old Englishman, who entered the tournament tied for 104th in driving distance, took a far more conservative path off the tee at No. 6, he turned to the crowd and raised his arms in a lighthearted imitation of his playing partner’s gestures over the weekend.
Westwood also showed there’s more than one way to play the game: His drive Sunday at the sixth landed 168 yards farther from the hole than DeChambeau’s. After two shots, they were in similar positions, and both birdied the hole.
It wasn’t all muscle off the tee Sunday for DeChambeau; he also made a pair of long putts and some key shots out of the rough. It added up to a victory by one stroke over Westwood, not to mention a fitting tribute from DeChambeau to Palmer himself, whose aggressive approach to the game was summarized in his book, “Go for Broke.”
“To win Mr. Palmer’s event, it’s going to make me cry,” DeChambeau said Sunday after one final clutch putt at the 18th. “It means the world to me. I got a text from Tiger [Woods] this morning — we just talked about just keep fighting no matter what happens and play boldly, like Mr. Palmer said.”
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