Slimmed-down Bryson DeChambeau surprises as PGA Championship contender

AP photo by Seth Wenig / Bryson DeChambeau waves after his chip on the 16th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — So much talk about this PGA Championship has been focused on the restoration project at Oak Hill Country Club ahead of the year's second major tournament.

Equally astonishing Thursday was the restoration of Bryson DeChambeau.

That incredible bulk who won the 2020 U.S. Open? DeChambeau has shed some 40 pounds by cutting out food to which he was allergic.

"I took a Zoomer peptide test, which essentially tells you what inflames your blood when you eat it," he said. "Pretty much everything I liked, I couldn't eat."

The guy who tried to smash it as far as he could and have wedge shots into the green? Now he's happier finding fairways, and he was happy to share what led to the improved accuracy.

"It's being more ... how do I explain this easy? I'm just in a place where I'm more ulnar," he said, leaving everyone to wonder what would have been the more complicated explanation.

The place that matters is his name high on the leaderboard. DeChambeau still lashed away with speed and strength, off the tee and out of the rough. That carried him to a 4-under-par 66 and the lead among those who finished an opening round that was delayed nearly two hours by frost.

Thirty players didn't finish because of darkness and were to return Friday morning. That included Eric Cole, the 34-year-old PGA Tour rookie who was 5 under with four holes left.

DeChambeau matched his low score at the PGA Championship and led by one over fellow LIV Golf League player Dustin Johnson, second-ranked Scottie Scheffler and Canada's Corey Conners.

"It's a fantastic round of golf at Oak Hill," DeChambeau said. "It's a prestigious place, very difficult golf course. As I was looking at it throughout the week, I'm like, 'Man, I don't know how shooting under par is even possible out here on some of the holes.' But luckily, I was able to play some really good golf."

So did Johnson, the two-time major champion who is coming off a playoff win Sunday in Oklahoma. Johnson went from a fairway bunker to deep rough left of the 18th green and missed a putt just inside 15 feet for his only bogey Thursday.

Fairways covered with a thin layer of frost gave way to magnificent weather with little wind.

"Today was probably the easiest conditions we'll see all week," said Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion who took advantage with his first bogey-free card in 51 rounds at a major.

Jon Rahm, who won the Masters last month for his second major title, failed to take advantage, making five bogeys in a six-hole stretch around the turn and finishing with a 76, his highest start at a major since the 2018 U.S. Open. Jason Day, coming off a win at the PGA Tour's AT&T Byron Nelson, and U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick also were at 76, which had them among those tied for 117th.

There are three Baylor School graduates in the 156-player field, and Keith Mitchell had the best start in that trio with a 69 that had him tied for 10th. Harris English (74) was among those in 76th, while Stephan Jaeger, playing the event for the first time after making his way off the alternate list, was 2 over with two holes to go.

  photo  AP photo by Abbie Parr / Jordan Spieth reacts after missing a putt on the third hole during the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y.

Scheffler challenging for the lead was not a surprise. He has six wins in the past 15 months, and he hasn't finished worse than 12th this year. Johnson, who led the LIV points list during the circuit's 2022 debut season, had a slow start to the year but is starting to hit his stride.

As for DeChambeau, he practically vanished from golf's elite over the past year.

He injured his hip in early 2022, attributing it to slipping on marble tile playing ping-pong in Saudi Arabia. He had surgery on his left wrist after the Masters last year. And then he joined LIV, where his tie for fifth in Oklahoma was his only top-10 result in six events this year.

"The emotions have definitely fluctuated pretty high and pretty low, thinking I have something and it fails, and going back and forth. It's humbling," DeChambeau said. "Golf, and life, always has a good way to kicking you on your you-know-what when you're on your high horse.

"It's nice to feel this today."

His only big miss came on his approach to the 17th out of rough. It sailed to the right toward the 18th tee and plunked club pro Kenny Pigman, who shook it off and then shook hands with an apologetic DeChambeau.

This isn't so much a transformation as a restoration. His goal is no longer to create a new way to approach the game, rather to find what brought him success when he won eight times in a span of three years, including his U.S. Open title at Winged Foot, also in New York.

Gone are the days when he consumed some 5,000 calories daily in a bid to build a body — he was called the "Incredible Bulk" — that could tolerate him swinging as hard as he could to overpower golf courses.

He began a diet that reduces inflammation (he estimates his daily calorie intake at 2,900) and tried to find his way back to 2018, when he felt he was at his best.

"I want to be just stable now," he said. "I'm tired of changing, trying different things. Yeah, could I hit it a little further, could I try and get a little stronger? Sure. But I'm not going to go full force.

"It was a fun experiment," he said, "but definitely want to play some good golf now."

Scheffler has been doing that all year, and the opening round of the PGA Championship was no exception. He made a stressful golf course look stress-free, except for a few holes.

One of them was No. 2, his 11th of the round, when he went over the green and faced a daunting chip up a steep slope to a back pin. He pitched up to seven feet and saved par. He also got out of position on the par-5 fifth hole, getting up and down from a bunker for par.

"It was a grind today," Scheffler said. "No bogeys is pretty solid."

For so many others, Oak Hill was the grind they expected. Jordan Spieth felt fit enough with an injured left wrist to pursue the final leg of the career Grand Slam, only to struggle with his putting. He shot a 73.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy looked as though he might be headed to another early exit from a big event. He was 3 over after nine holes and in trouble at No. 2 when he was over the green in three, some 35 feet away with a steep slope between him and a back pin.

He holed it with his putter for a most unlikely par, made birdie on the next two holes and salvaged a 71.

"It was massive," McIlroy said. "Depending on what happens over the next three days and what I go on to do, I may look back at that shot as being the sort of turning point of the week."

The forecast going forward was for warmer weather and a little more wind.

The forecast for possible PGA Championship contenders now includes DeChambeau.

"Golf is a weird animal. You can never fully have it," he said. "You always think you have it one day, and then it just leaves the next. Just got to be careful."