Fireworks were cancelled, or flat-out banned in places all around the U.S. this Fourth of July weekend, yet another frustrating result of the seemingly never-ending coronavirus pandemic.
However, law enforcement was utterly helpless in preventing the otherworldly arsenal coming from the bag of Bryson DeChambeau, as the recently ultra-bulked 26-year-old put on a distance clinic at Detroit Golf Club, allowing him to quickly erase a three stroke deficit and shoot a field-low 7-under 65 to win the second edition of the Rocket Mortgage Classic by three strokes over 54-hole tournament leader Matthew Wolff.
The way DeChambeau was able to shorten the course with one eye-poppingly mammoth drive after another likely triggered great alarm among golf purists.
Two years ago, when a 24-year-old DeChambeau won four PGA Tour events in the span of five months of the 2018 calendar year, emphatically fulfilling the great promise he showed as a collegiate star at SMU, it was believed that many more wins would follow.
Many more wins may still follow for the controversial and much-polarizing golfer known as “The Scientist,” but as 2019 arrived, his momentum quickly halted. Aside from a two-week summer stretch where he went T8-T2, he slumped for most of the year.
But while the first half of 2020 brought unyielding chaos for most of the planet, DeChambeau was finding his best body, and his best form. In the midst of adding a ridiculous amount of distance to his drives (his driving distance average has risen from a 34th-ranked 302.5 yards to a 2nd-ranked 320.1 yards), he has been knocking on the door of his sixth career Tour victory, and first since the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open, way back in the fall of 2018.
After opening his 2020 calendar year season with an underwhelming T52 at February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, DeChambeau notched finishes of T5-2-4 in three starts before the COVID-19 layoff.
The historically streaky DeChambeau was able to stay hot when the Tour returned three months later, however.
In the field for the first three events, he tallied results of T3, T8, and T6 respectively, not shooting a single over-par round, and finding himself in Sunday contention each time. Now he has a victory to add to that impressive collection of recent starts.
It was a win that brought out considerable fans (not in person, as this is the fourth event of a five-week COVID-caused fan-free schedule), but also considerable detractors.
DeChambeau has become increasingly polarizing as he has been the subject of wide-spread slow-play criticisms, and has sometimes struggled to keep his emotions in check on the course, among other things. He did not help himself on Saturday when he got into a confrontation with a cameraman who he felt followed him too closely after a poor bunker shot evoked an angry reaction.
Like him or not, DeChambeau is again a winner on Tour, and his smash-and-mash style of play seems to suit him well. Over the past four seasons, only Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson have more victories.
Down the stretch, only Wolff really challenged him. Wolff struggled early, and after he was at 3-over through ten holes, DeChambeau led by three strokes. Just when it appeared it was going to turn into a runaway, DeChambeau had a “one of us!” moment when he sent his layup on the par-5 14th into the rocks surrounding a water hazard, leading to a penalty. It was his only bogey of the final day. And once Wolff found his stride, and carded birdies on Nos. 12, 13, and 15, the lead was suddenly just a single stroke.
DeChambeau did not let that bogey collapse his round, though. He composed himself with a par on No. 15 and then made birdie on both 16 and 17. His last hole, a 465-yard par-4, was especially impressive as he was left with just 98 yards on his second shot. His approach landed within four feet, and his third-straight birdie delivered Sunday’s low round, and the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic title.
Kevin Kisner, a first-round co-leader, shot a Sunday 6-under 66 to reach 18-under for the week, good for solo third.
Final Top-10 Finishers
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Bryson DeChambeau -23 (-7)
2. Matthew Wolff -20 (-1)
3. Kevin Kisner -18 (-6)
4. Danny Willett -16 (-6)
4. Adam Hadwin -16 (-5)
4. Tyrrell Hatton -16 (-4)
4. Ryan Armour -16 (E)
8. Maverick McNealy -15 (-6)
8. Sepp Straka -15 (-5)
8. Webb Simpson -15 (-2)
8. Troy Merritt -15 (-1)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: Bryson DeChambeau (350.6)
Fairways: Henrik Norlander (48/56, 85.7%)
Greens: Adam Schenk (62/72, 86.1%)
Putts/GIR: Matthew Wolff (59/1.500)
Birdies: Matthew Wolff (30)
How Bryson DeChambeau Won the Rocket Mortgage Classic
As much press as DeChambeau deservedly got for his phenomenal work off the tees – he led the field in both driving distance and strokes gained: off-the-tee – he also led the field in strokes gained: putting, making him the first player in the ShotLink era to win a tournament while leading the field in those two statistics. He actually finished negative for the week in strokes gained: approach-the-green, but was so overwhelmingly good in every other stat that it did not matter.
DeChambeau’s 27 birdies was second in the field for the week, and he cancelled only six of those gains out with bogeys, with four of those coming during a first round where he still shot a 6-under 66.
With matching 5-under 67s on Friday and Saturday, he was tied for second place through 54-holes, three strokes back of Wolff. Interestingly, the 21-year-old Wolff got his first win in his rookie season (in just the fourth start of his career), almost a year ago to the day, at the inaugural 3M Open.
Tied for the lead with Collin Morikawa on the final tee box, DeChambeau eagled the par-5 18th from the group ahead to take a one-shot lead, but Wolff eagled the hole himself to win the event by a single shot.
DeChambeau’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 350.6 yards (1st)
Fairways: 33/56, 58.9% (58th)
Greens: 56/72, 77.8% (13th)
Putts/Per GIR: 91/1.625 (7th)
Scores: 1 Eagle, 27 Birdies, 38 Pars, 6 Bogeys
Off the Tee: 6.672 (1st)
Approach the Green: -0.485 (84th)
Tee to Green: 7.284 (4th)
Putting: 7.831 (2nd)
Total: 15.116 (1st)
What It Means For DeChambeau
Despite a season where, in 10 starts, DeChambeau has a win, a runner-up, and a third-place finish among seven top-10s, he’s ONLY fourth in the FedExCup Standings, up from 12th after last week.
DeChambeau won the first two events of the 2018 FedExCup playoffs to take an enormous lead that he was unable to hold onto. He will also move up from his position of 10th in the world rankings to No. 7. His career high was fifth, which he’s reached on two occasions.
The biggest impact on this victory should come in confidence (as if he needed more) and momentum. Six victories is impressive, and several have come in big events: the two aforementioned FedExCup Playoff events plus the 2018 Memorial Tournament, but he has been a complete no-show in the majors, with a T15 at the 2016 U.S. Open his best result. Since then, he has failed to finish better than T25 in any major. The frantic late-season COVID-induced major schedule could work to his advantage if he keeps the momentum going.
DeChambeau’s 2019-20 Season
Cuts Made: 10
Wins: 1 (Rocket Mortgage Classic)
Additional Top 10s: 6
Earnings: $4,498,205 (2nd)
FedExCup Pts: 1,514 (4th)
World Rank Before/After: 10/7
Most of those who began the day near the lead struggled on Sunday, as six of the 11 players who finished inside the top 10 moved up at least nine spots in the final round, meaning that a lot of players went out earlier and posted low.
Nobody reached DeChambeau’s final-round 65, but among those who shot a 6-under 66 (Kisner finished the highest at solo-third) 24-year-old former Stanford phenom Maverick McNealy used his to jump 32 spots from T40 to T8, the second top-10 finish of his young career.
McNealy overcame troubles off the team with a hot flatstick, as he finished third in the field in strokes gained: putting.
The biggest Sunday leaderboard jumper was the one man on Tour who averages more yardage than DeChambeau off the tee: Cameron Champ. Champ’s 66, which came in spite of two bogeys, propelled him 37 spots from T49 to T12.
Champ finished second in the field to DeChambeau in both driving distance and strokes gained: off-the-tee.
The ultra-popular Rickie Fowler, who is featured heavily in commercials from Rocket Mortgage, got his week off to an excellent start with a 5-under 67, but rounds of 71 and 69 the next two days kept him out of Sunday contention.
Still, Fowler pleased a lot of fans with another 5-under 67, which rocketed him 28 spots from T40 to T12. Fowler should be encouraged by the fact that he finished T12 after missing the cut in the other two starts he has made since the PGA Tour resumed play.
Tied with DeChambeau in second place to start the final round, and playing in the final pairing with Wolff was Ryan Armour. Basically the anti-DeChambeau with driving distance, Armour was short again, which he got away with the first three rounds, but was unable to make much of anything happen on Sunday.
The 44-year-old Ohio State product was over par for much of the day, and ended up shooting an even-par 72 that moved him into a share of fourth. However, it continued a positive trend, as it was Armour’s second consecutive top 10 finish after his previous seven starts had resulted in six missed cuts and a T74.
DeChambeau did not seem too affected by the negative play of his final-round partner, Troy Merritt. The two-time Tour winner opened with a double-bogey that deflated his chances right out of the gate. He did well to come back and shoot a 1-under 71, but he needed much more, and his underwhelming round dropped him from T4 to T8.
The next Tour victory (and first in a non-opposite field event) of Tony Finau has felt inevitable for a while, but the wait will be considerably longer if he continues to play the way he did today.
The world’s 17th-ranked golfer played his front nine in 4-over, and finished the day with a 2-over 74 that caused him to plummet 34 spots from T19 to T53.
Willett Shines Again (Finally) On U.S. Soil
In 2016, a 28-year-old Englishman ranked ninth in the world named Danny Willett won The Masters, overcoming a five-stroke deficit with eight strokes to play to shock defending champion Jordan Speith.
Willett’s time on top of the world ended up being short-lived as injuries, among other issues, saw his previously-refined game completely collapse. He failed to finish better than T37 on Tour over the rest of the 2016 season, and in 2017, four of his five made cuts came in limited-field no-cut events, where his only finish better than 69th was a T39 in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship (64-man field). His other made cut was a 76th place result at The Open Championship.
At one point in 2018, he fell to 462nd in the world rankings. However, Willett was able to bounce back, as positive results in Europe, including two victories, had him at 36th coming into the week. Still, both PGA Tour top-10s that he had tallied since that Masters triumph came in 2019, in events outside the U.S. Now, that ignominious streak has ended.
With a 6-under 66 on Sunday, Willett finished 16-under for the week, jumping him from T30 to T4 on the final leaderboard. He had just two bogeys over the final three rounds and finished sixth in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
“I wanted people to see a different playstyle of the game. I knew there was an opportunity to show people if you work hard enough, you do your absolute best, you give it everything you’ve got, you can achieve amazing things, and that’s what I was able to do, and that’s what we were able to do as a team.”
– Bryson DeChambeau, Rocket Mortgage Classic Champion