Column: Augusta National cuts Incredible Hulk down to size

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was a very reassuring day at Augusta National.

Turns out, the green jacket will not be draped over the biggest, strongest shoulders — not if they belong to a guy who has no idea where that little white ball is going.

Bryson DeChambeau, the Incredible Hulk of the links, arrived at the Masters talking boldly of overpowering one of golf’s most hallowed grounds.

Instead, he got cut down to size.

DeChambeau spent Friday spraying shots all over the course, his frustration threatening to boil over at any moment like the fictional Hulk.

He even managed to lose a ball in truly bizarre fashion.

Then there was Abraham Ancer, checking in at all of 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, roughly the size of one of DeChambeau’s forearms.

The 29-year-old Mexican ranked far down the list in driving distance, his average of 279.5 yards more than half a football field behind DeChambeau’s moon shots.

But Ancer had a much better idea of where his ball would end up. And when he walked off the course at the end of the second round, he had a 9-under 135 on his card that gave him a share of the incomplete 36-hole lead.

“I didn’t really hit it my best off the tee,” Ancer said. “But I’ve been able to scramble really well and made some putts for birdie, which is what kept me in it. I played the par 3s really good.”

Those are the shortest holes, of course, but they’re usually the most devilish. They’re all about touch, not strength.

Ancer birdied three of them during the second round, a big reason the Masters rookie left the course tied for the lead.

DeChambeau will simply be trying to make the cut when he returns Saturday morning to complete his final six holes of his second round. He played the first dozen at 3 over, leaving him a whopping 10 strokes behind Ancer and three others at the top of the leaderboard.

Hardly what was expected from a guy who has transformed his body into something resembling an NFL middle linebacker, who overpowered the U.S. Open field at Winged Foot to capture his first major title, who brashly set par at Augusta as 67 rather than 72.

“I can reach all the par 5s in two, no problem,” boasted DeChambeau, who has sought to normalize the idea of 400-yard drives and swing speeds that can hold their own against an Indy race car.

If Augusta’s four par 5s become par 4s on DeChambeau’s presumptive and presumptuous scorecard, that surely means the third hole — at 350 yards, by far the shortest par 4 on the course — is marked down to a par 3 at Bryson’s Mammoth Tee Shot Emporium.

Well, you’re not going to believe what happened at No. 3.

Exhaling loudly before his club wind-milled around with frightening speed, DeChambeau took aim with his driver down the left side of the fairway, the green clearly in his sights.

But the ball rocketed further left than he intended, touching down in a patch of thick grass still dampened from heavy rain this week. It was traveling with such force that it plugged deep into the ground.

DeChambeau and about 15 others — officials, workers, anyone else standing around in the sparse gallery at this patron-less Masters — scoured the turf for a full three minutes, poking and prodding at the ground.

No ball.

“When you have Bryson hitting it as hard as he hits it, it’s kind of hooking with not much spin into a soft area … we were all confident it was pretty buried and it was going to be hard to find,” said playing partner Jon Rahm, who also joined the search party.

Since there also were no immediate reports of it popping out on the other side of the world, DeChambeau was left to take the Ride of Shame. A cart ferried him back to the tee box to hit again. He wound up making a triple-bogey 7 at a hole that has yielded an average score of 3.966.

(FWIW, Golf.com reported the ball was found about 10 minutes later by a gallery guard, no more than 10 feet off the fairway, but only visible to someone right on top of it.)

When you combine the triple-bogey with another 7 on Thursday — when DeChambeau drove one behind a pine tree, yanked the next shot into some azalea bushes, hit a provisional into Rae’s Creek, found his first ball, took a penalty drop, chunked a chip and wound up making double bogey at the third-easiest hole on the course — it’s easy to see why he’s in the predicament he’s in.

It doesn’t matter that he’s got nine birdies on his card and the top spot in the entire field in driving distance — 13 yards clear of the next man.

While DeChambeau was making a mess of things, 63-year-old Bernhard Langer was methodically plodding his way around the course.

The diminutive German ranks 88th out of 91 players in driving distances, but he’s tied for third in driving accuracy, missing just three fairways in the first two rounds.

The result: Langer is 3 under and assured of becoming the oldest player in Masters history to make the cut.

“Drove the ball well and putted fairly well, and that kept me in there even though I’m hitting very long clubs,” Langer said. “I like this golf course. I think I know how to get around it, even though I hit very long clubs. But it’s certainly not easy. It’s a long hitter’s place. Always has been.”

Fortunately, there’s more to Augusta than who hits it the farthest.

We got a reminder of that Friday.

No offense to DeChambeau, but that was very reassuring.

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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry196 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

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