Masters venue Augusta is tricky, but there have been wonder shots

Rolex Testimonees Woods, Rahm and Mickelson have found the magic, and DeChambeau is capable of striking it right too.

THE prestigious US Masters, which keeps the worldwide golf fraternity captivated for four days, has produced some miraculous shots in its 87 years of history.

So etched in our minds, after marvelling over countless television replays, was Tiger Woods' precision greenside chip in 2005 that went uphill before momentarily freezing at the edge of the hole and then dropping into the pin.

Then we had Jon Rahm's miraculous shot that skimmed off the water before spinning into the hole during a practice round last year.

And you could only gasp in wonderment, like playing partner Lee Westwood did, when Phil Mickelson struck a magical 189-metre propulsion through only a 1.2-metre gap between two pine trees and over the menacing water of Rae's Creek to land the ball softly three feet from the cup in 2010.

Great expectations

So as live-action-starved golf fans look forward to another edition of the Masters at the famed Augusta course from April 8 to 11, they foresee further wonder shots in the most significant and unique Major which has an exclusive by-invitation-only field of between 90 and 100 golfers.

One Rolex Testimonee brimming with confidence and eager to showcase his talents at this year's Tournament is the in-form Bryson DeChambeau, who recently claimed his first Major when he lifted the US Open trophy in September.

The American world No. 9 is an extraordinary golfer who is capable of giving the Masters a great fillip because he has unmatched power that can rock the world.

His biggest asset is his unimaginable distance from his blasting drives with which he can tame the par-fives and tease the par-fours with his control, direction and trajectory.

In fact, he frequently whacks his drives a massive 335 metres and sometimes with carry, his golf ball gobbles up 365 metres.

Such unimaginable distances have made the US PGA Tour officials re-think about distance control even to the point of re-shaping courses.

Just last month at Sawgrass, DeChambeau contemplated a short cut at the par-four 18th hole with a new line - potentially playing across the water hazard and into the rough of No. 9, then seeking a second shot back across water onto the green.

The Tour officials responded immediately by imposing an out-of-bounds area, claiming that such an approach could injure spectators, so the muscular man was forced to change his mind.

On the winding par-five 507-metre sixth hole with a severe dogleg left that wraps around a big lake, he completely eliminated the dogleg altogether and blasted the ball over the lake in the Arnold Palmer Invitational event.

The crowd reacted with awe, shock and excitement as he thrust his arms in the air, and screamed: "I felt like a kid again. It was almost like winning the tournament."

Towering drives aside, DeChambeau, 27, is a crowd favourite because he banters with them en route to his play area.

And the fans, whose energy he summons and translates into inspiration, often are curious to know about his changed image over the last two years.

A towering 1.85-metre frame packed into a muscular 108-kg weight and oozing power, DeChambeau strikes the ball so hard that rivals try to copy, and agonised.

No doubt, DeChambeau has slimmed down by 6.8 kg now, but his appetite for distance driving still remains, and this played a great part in the reigning United States Open champion's defeat of Englishman Lee Westwood at the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational.

With a disciplined training regime and the determination to gain further strength and better tone, DeChambeau gained 18 kg last year and then the gym-fanatic trimmed his weight by at least 6.8 kg now.

All said, DeChambeau is only human. Sometimes, the mind says something, but the execution can go wrong. Like what happened at The Players at Sawgrass recently when his double-bogey on one of the easiest par-fours cost him.

But DeChambeau has the character and quality to bounce back. That is what the Major winner did to finish tied-third, two shots off winner Thomas and one off Westwood for a 12-under total.

He shanked twice, first off the tee to just over 90 metres, leading one observer to utter: "He got the longest and shortest drive in 2021."

But the man of the moment is someone who demands freedom of thought and action and a maestro who put these into play in the come-from-behind victory in the Players Championship on March 14 at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

American Justin Thomas, 28, is no DeChambeau in build, only 1.78 metres and weighing 77 kg. But the Rolex Testimonee, who turned pro in 2013, earned his first victory on the US PGA Tour in 2015 by winning the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, which he defended the following year.

Committed to his goal

The world No. 3 has said that he does not let anything or anyone stand in his way once he is committed to his goal, a trait that was easily evident when he overcame a three-shot deficit going into Sunday's play and edged out overnight leader Lee Westwood at TPC Sawgrass.

Thomas used a late eagle and final-round four-under 68 to steal victory, after which he said: "The round tested me mentally, physically, emotionally, and I'm proud of myself for getting it done."

He was also on course to make history. When he approached the 18th green at Sawgrass on Sunday, he had an opportunity to be a part of The Players Championship folklore by making all 18 greens in regulation during a final round, something not seen at The Players since 1983.

But he came up brutally short by just centimetres. His approach shot cut slightly to the right, and though Thomas could be heard on TV calling for a big bounce, he didn't get it. The ball landed on the fringe, roughly 2.5 cm from the green, which ended his shot at joining history.

However, the talented golfer, with one Major in his bag with the US PGA Championship crown in 2017, has time on his hands.

In fact, he matches his great buddy, Tiger, with whom he regularly exchanges text messages of encouragement, in having won The Players along with 10 Tour titles and a Major by the age of 28.

After victory Thomas said: "The head space that I was in this week was a huge step for me. I was in a lot better place than the last couple of months, so I think that was huge, and I don't think it's any coincidence that my golf was better."

Rolex, for whom "The Big Three" of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have won 13 Masters titles, has a wealth of talent among its 21 Testimonees in this year's Masters. They include multiple Major winners Brooks Koepka (runner-up in 2019 Masters) and Jordan Spieth (2015 champion).

The other big names are Rahm, who by 2019, three years after turning professional, had claimed six European Tour titles, England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, China's Li Haotong, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Belgium's Thomas Pieters.

Others to watch

It would also be wise to keep an eye on elite ball-striker Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy and the world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, the defending champion who played 20-under last year.

Of course, Westwood carries the banner for oldies with two recent runner-up positions despite going into the final rounds as leader. Losing to Thomas at The Players was preceded by his defeat again by one shot to DeChambeau.

A popular golfer to South-east Asians, having played in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand so often, the 47-year-old recently confessed that age is catching up with him.

He said: "I didn't quite have my game - on Saturday I felt like my legs were getting a bit tired and weak, on Sunday, I didn't feel like I had my legs under me. I was hitting shots I don't usually hit."

Whatever, the Augusta course, despite being lengthened to 6,835 metres in 2019, is not relatively long by PGA standards. But managing the toughest holes in Amen Corner - made up of the second half of No. 11, all of No. 12 and the first half of No. 13 - can be very tricky and daunting.

Technically, the corner is made up of the second half of No. 11, all of No. 12 and the first half of No. 13.

And one major victim was Woods (out of this year's Masters because of a car accident), who as defending champion last year, collapsed on the par-three 12th with a 10 when he found water three times to fall way out of contention.

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