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DeChambeau, matured in both game and attitude, opens with 65 to lead the Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — It took Bryson DeChambeau four years and 13 rounds to finally break par at Augusta National.

His par.

Or at least, what he once proclaimed to be his par.

DeChambeau birdied his first three holes Thursday, made five more over his last seven, and opened with a 65 to take the early lead at the Masters. It was his best round ever in the season's first major, and only his second in the 60s since the once-brash, always-outspoken DeChambeau ruffled a few feathers among the green jackets.

Back in 2020, a bulked-up DeChambeau declared his power had rendered the par-72 layout a par 67, because he could reach Augusta National's four par-5s in two and the short, par-4 third hole was reachable off the tee.

The comment came off as arrogance run amok, and DeChambeau got some comeuppance when he tied for 34th that year.

The former U.S. Open champion admitted Thursday that he has taken plenty of flack for it.

“For me," DeChambeau said, "I have a level of respect for this golf course that’s a little bit different than a couple years ago, and clearly today was a great test of golf, and I was able to conquer a very difficult golf course today.

"Regarding the 67 comment," DeChambeau continued, “you know, you mess up. I’m not a perfect person. Everybody messes up. You learn from your mistake, and that was definitely one.”

To be sure, DeChambeau is older and wiser — a whole lot richer, too, thanks to his jump from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf — than he was four years ago. He has overcome injuries, including a fractured bone in his left wrist, and struggled with tweaks to his swing as he shed some of that muscle for a more lithe, athletic build that just might hold up better over time.

Things finally clicked again for the 30-year-old last year in the LIV event at The Greenbrier, when DeChambeau shot 61-58 on the weekend to win going away. He won again later in the year at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago.

“The thing about Bryson — people don’t talk about it — he’s always been one of the best putters in the world,” explained Gary Woodland, who played with him Thursday. “When he drives it like he did today — I mean, he drove it really good — and he makes putts, he’s obviously very good. It was a clinic. It was impressive. He didn’t get out of position hardly at all.”

As well as things are going on the course for DeChambeau, they seem to be trending in the right direction off it.

“He’s one of the smartest people I know, and one of the most talented players I know, and probably one of the hardest working,” said Phil Mickelson, who plays with him frequently on the LIV tour. “He has found a way to play golf that is different and unique from anybody I’ve ever seen play it. He believes and knows that it gives him opportunities and advantages, and he has got the commitment and the self-assurance to not care what anybody else says.”

People do care what DeChambeau has to say, though.

He was among the first wave of PGA Tour stars that chased guaranteed Saudi money with LIV Golf, and he remains one of the breakaway league's biggest cheerleaders. But he also realizes the resulting schism within professional golf has been detrimental to the sport, and he's joined Rory McIlroy and others in pressing for some sort of reconciliation.

“Look, how do we make this work for both sides? How do we make this work for the fans?” DeChambeau asked. “I personally think that we could figure that out quickly if we just sit down and hash it out for a week.”

Leave it to the golfer nicknamed “the Scientist” — a deep thinker deep in confidence — to believe such a complex problem can be solved so easily.

“I was always different growing up,” DeChambeau admitted, “and I learned pretty quickly not everybody is going to agree with you or like what you're doing. And when somebody doesn’t agree with me, I respectfully say, ‘OK, appreciate that, but I think it’s this way, and we’re just going to agree to disagree.’ And that’s kind of the way I’ve taken it over the past —- well, my whole life.

“You can’t figure everything out,” DeChambeau added with a smile, "and you’re not always going to be right. Respecting that, respecting Father Time and understanding that — enjoy the ride. Smell the roses.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf