Rocket Mortgage Classic: Can Bryson DeChambeau launch a successful title defence?

Golf’s biggest hitter took victory in last year’s showdown in Detroit with 23-under and is favourite to score a repeat win this week.

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Bryson DeChambeau to win at 15/2

Defending a title is never easy.

Bryson DeChambeau will know that more than anyone after his bid to win back-to-back US Opens fell apart spectacularly at Torrey Pines two weeks ago.

The monster-hitting Californian took sole possession of the lead with a near hole-in-one at the eighth in round four and looked on course to defend the crown he won at Winged Foot.

But on the back nine it went horribly wrong.

DeChambeau bogeyed the 11th and 12th, added a double bogey at 13 and, with his hopes gone, racked up a quadruple bogey at 17.

A back-nine 44 dropped him all the way down to tied 26th.

Bryson got straight back on the horse by playing in the Travelers Championship but could never really get in a blow and finished tied 19th.

His form isn't too far off and yet the bottom line is this: since following a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a third at THE PLAYERS Championship, BDC has managed just one top 10 in eight starts.

That was a tied ninth in the Wells Fargo Championship so DeChambeau hasn't even been delivering for each-way supporters.

But Bryson backers can be a loyal bunch so is this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic the ideal chance for him - and them - to land another victory?

Last year he was irresistible in this event, shooting an opening 66, two 67s and a closing 65 to win with 23-under.

The American poured in 27 birdies and an eagle and finished three clear of Matthew Wolff to secure a sixth PGA TOUR win. Two months later he would win his first Major, the US Open, and now the victory count has risen to eight.

One thing is worth noting though: all those eight wins came in different tournaments. In other words, he's yet to make a successful defence.

So, given that he's hoping to break that duck this week, how has DeChambeau fared when teeing it up in an event when coming in as the defending champion?

DeChambeau's record when defending

2018 John Deere Classic - did not defend the title he won in 2017

2019 Memorial Tournament - tied 22nd

2019 The Northern Trust - tied 24th

2019 Dell Technologies Championship - did not defend; no tournament

2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open - tied 4th

2021 US Open - tied 26th

2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic - ?

The bare stat that DeChambeau has never defended a title requires some caveats.

He hasn't appeared at the John Deere since winning it in 2017, the Dells Technologies was removed from the schedule and his Northern Trust and US Open defences both came on different courses.

It means he's only attempted a pure title defence (i.e. the following year on the same course) just twice. In the first he finished tied 22nd at Memorial and in the second he was tied fourth at the Shriners in Las Vegas.

Any notions that Bryson is a poor defender need to be re-evaluated a little.

He'll get just a third opportunity to defend a title on the same course this week and, given that he was tied fourth the last time he had those same circumstances (Shriners 2019), DeChambeau backers have every reason to expect a big challenge.

Here's what he said in Wednesday's press conference:

On defending

"Yeah, it's always fun to be able to defend your title. I came close at the US Open. I'm just looking forward to doing it hopefully this time.

"It's definitely cool. It brings back great memories Obviously looking back and seeing some of the holes that I played well. Some holes I didn't play well on, some holes I played really well on. Trying to say to myself, hey, you can do that again this year with those memories makes me feel good."

His take on that calamitous back nine in the US Open

"Just luck. I mean, I slipped on 13. Everybody was apparently slipping on 13 and I didn't know that. I slipped two days in a row, then got in a bad lie, which you're expecting, it's the US Open, but it's a part of life. I could have hit it five more feet to the right across the cart path and gone for the green. So it's just one of those things that a little bit of luck there.

"And then a streaker, that was fun. Then just laid up into a bad lie in the right rough, had a bad line. And then, you know, I just feel like my driver's kind of a bit of luck. Sometimes I pull it, sometimes I push it and on 17 I pulled it into a bad lie or in the hazard and then hit a great wedge shot and it spun off the front edge into a really bad lie and just hit it off the hosel and went over the green.

"That's what it is. It's just things compounding on each other that you just can't necessarily control fully. You hit a great shot, nothing happened for you. That's luck."

On whether luck was a factor when he won the US Open at Winged Foot

"Huge factor. I mean, on 14 I hit it left. I think it was 14. Yeah, 14, hit it left, into a dead spot where the pin was left as well. and I was kind of on an upslope and I was trying to hit it 20 feet past but I chunked it. It came out dead just on the front edge and trickled to 10 feet and I made the 10-footer to have a flip flop again with Matthew (Wolff) to give myself a four-shot advantage.

"You're going to need those to win. Every golf tournament has that. People don't realize how much luck plays a big factor. You can control a lot, but at the end of the day, still luck is a huge component of it."

On what stood out about his victory in last year's Rocket Mortgage

"Driving. I drove it really well and I putted incredibly well. It's a little different conditions this year, but I think I'm hitting it straighter, hitting it actually a little farther than I did a year ago.

"If I can take advantage of the wedges -- wedges weren't great last week, but hopefully I can take care of that this week. If I can do that, I'll give myself a good chance."

On how his victory here in 2020 acted as validation for his approach to the game

"It was very important. It was a milestone to show everybody that this is a different way that I can do it and still win, so I was pretty proud of that.

"You know, used it pretty well throughout the year. I won again, I won the U.S. Open, won Arnold Palmer and came close a few other times, but just again, not everything being on my A-game allowed me not to win. Hopefully I can have that that week.

"It gave me the confidence to win the US Open knowing that I can play a game that's not normal or is a little unique and different. You look at the US Open, it was a prime example.

"Everybody thought I was crazy by saying I'm just going to bomb and gouge it, but it worked out that week. Didn't work out at Torrey, but that's okay. Life goes on."

On whether the wet conditions this week will be an advantage

"It's huge. Being able to carry certain bunkers, being able to fly to certain areas where I can have irons in where people are going to probably struggle a little bit even though they're still going to play great.

"It's not like somebody that hits it short out here can't win, they can, absolutely. If they iron play well and putt really well, they can beat me. Hopefully this length gives me an advantage that you don't have to be so perfect to allow myself to be up next to the top of the leaderboard come Sunday."

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