AUGUSTA, UNITED STATES (AFP) - US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and defending Masters champion Tiger Woods teed off together Monday (Nov 9) in a star foursome during the first official practice session of the 84th Masters.
The buzz about how long-driving DeChambeau might overpower Augusta National mingled with the shock exit of 2017 winner Sergio Garcia after the 40-year-old Spaniard tested positive for Covid-19.
DeChambeau and Woods, the 15-time major champion trying for his record 83rd US PGA victory and record-tying sixth Masters title, were joined on the back nine for the afternoon by 1992 Masters winner Fred Couples and 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas.
Garcia, coming off his first US PGA win since the Masters last month, said Monday he tested positive after missing the cut in last week's Houston Open, the first US-based PGA event to have spectators with 2,000 allowed each day.
"On Saturday night after driving back from the Houston Open, I started feeling a bit of a sore throat and a cough," Garcia tweeted.
"The symptoms stayed with me on Sunday morning so I decided to get tested for Covid-19 and so did my wife Angela. Thankfully she tested negative, but I didn't." For the first time in history, the Masters is taking place in November rather than its traditional April slot following disruption to the season caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament is being played without spectators to see if DeChambeau can follow up his maiden major triumph at Winged Foot, where his big-hitting style tamed the course.
DeChambeau practiced last week with Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, and the 62-year-old Scotsman told PGA Tour Radio what clubs the American was hitting into some of the greens.
World number six DeChambeau hit wedges into the first, ninth, 10th and 17th holes - all 440 to 495 yards. He reached the third green from 350 yards with a 3-wood off the tee and used 7- to 9-irons for five more over 500 yards.
It didn't do anything to reduce fears that DeChambeau might shatter famed Augusta National, where normal mowing heights are set for lightning-fast undulating greens and fairway unprotected by punitive deep rough.
"What he's doing is remarkable, the work that he puts in, the dedication that he has," three-time Masters winner Mickelson said of DeChambeau's game.
A worry for DeChambeau and other big-hitters was in the forecast, with rain and thunderstorms in the projections until the weekend. Soggy conditions could deny extra roll to the ball off the tee but help approaches hold onto the notoriously treacherous greens.
DeChambeau also bulked up during the three-month Covid-19 layoff that led to the Masters being postponed from its usual April date.
Masters trims cut line
It became tougher to make the Masters cut Monday as Augusta National said it was ending an extension to its cut policy that allowed anyone within 10 strokes of the lead into the weekend as well as the top 50 and those level after 36 holes.
Since 1962, anyone within 10 strokes of the lead had been allowed into the third and fourth Masters rounds no matter where they ranked in the overall scoring.
Not only are there no spectators but there are no grandstands or boundary ropes for them, opening space in unusual places for errant approaches.
Maples and other trees add yellow, red and orange leaves to Amen Corner among the tall green Georgia pines. Camelias and nandina flowers bloom as usual instead of the azaleas and dogwoods that beautify the layout in spring.