ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | The first event on the European Tour’s lucrative Middle East swing, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, went mostly well for Brooks Koepka (above), not so well for Bryson DeChambeau. Koepka’s opening score of 66 was 6-under par. Watching the American, you never would have thought it was his first round since aggravating an injury to his left knee three months ago. There were no signs of him flinching when he put weight onto his left knee. He didn’t limp. “He’s good, isn’t he?” Tommy Fleetwood, one of Koepka’s playing partners, said drily. Pádraig Harrington, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, said: “He finds the game pretty easy, doesn’t he?”
Koepka attracted a lot of attention from golf followers who had not seen him in the flesh before. They would have noted his impressive frame, with each shoulder wide enough to support a fridge and how his upper arms, from the elbows to the shoulders, were as thick as small palm trees. They made those of Fleetwood and Open champion Shane Lowry, his other playing partner, look scrawny. Koepka, the world No. 1, had a message for his rivals after his first round: “I want to put my stamp on the game for the next five years.”
DeChambeau’s week had started well. On the eve of the event he spoke of his approval of the European Tour’s new rules designed to speed up play and even went so far as to say that he thought 3½ hours was the length of time it should take to play 18 holes. His first round took 4½ hours, a whirlwind compared to some of his previous rounds. More to the point though was what Billy Foster, a prince among caddies, said of DeChambeau’s speed of play. “Fair play,” Foster said. “He’s put on 30 pounds, added 30 yards in length and is much faster this year. Respect!”
Then it started to go wrong. Having seen photographs of Koepka in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, DeChambeau critiqued the world No. 1 on social media, accusing him of not having a full six pack of abdominal muscles. He shouldn’t have done so. He was prodding the bear. Koepka’s response was devastating: a picture of his four major championship trophies and the words: “You were right @b_dechambeau, I am short of a 6 pack!”
DeChambeau’s second round began with two plugged lies in five holes, costing him three strokes. By the time he reached his 18th, he was muttering dark thoughts about his clubs and knew he was going to miss the cut. He missed the fairway with his drive, hit his approach shot to the right of the green and having reached the putting surface with his third stroke he then three-putted. He fled Abu Dhabi Golf Club in what can only be described as a huff, 5-over par and 15 strokes behind the leader, declining to sign any memorabilia or spend any time in social conversation. If he had been a car you could have said he left the scene in a cloud of dust, engine revving, wheels spinning furiously.
Koepka, meanwhile, followed his opening 66 with a lackluster 75 and ultimately finished T34.