PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Bryson DeChambeau knew what was coming. As soon as he reached for the 4-iron on the tee box at the 18th hole of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Friday, he heard a muffled disappointment through those mandatory masks.

“It’s always like, ‘Aww’, with an iron,” DeChambeau said Friday. “Driver, it’s like, ‘Yeah!’”

DeChambeau has embraced his newfound role as the PGA Tour’s biggest showman. That title comes when you add 20 pounds of muscle and two shirt sizes during three months of quarantine, and suddenly, the golf ball is exploding off the head of your driver.

He leads the Tour in driving distance this season, averaging at 323.5 yards. He was 34th in 2019.

But DeChambeau, No. 6 in the World Golf Rankings, is driving for show and for dough. His victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend was his second of the season, including his first major, the U.S. Open, and his fourth top 10 in seven events.

Now, he’s in contention again at The Players Championship.

On a Tour with its share of surly, dull stars, DeChambeau’s Q Score is climbing. He’s engaging and charismatic. His reputation as the game’s Mad Scientist — DeChambeau has a degree in physics from SMU — who can spend a little too much time analyzing every putt has rankled some (see, Brooks Koepka).

DeChambeau, though, is enjoying interacting with fans since bulking up.

“They always ask how many protein shakes I’ve had, which is funny,” he said. “And I always reply back with however many I’ve had that day for the most part.”

And how many was that at noon Friday, when his round ended?

“Four.”

The Tour took advantage of DeChambeau’s rising popularity by including him and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the same group during the first two rounds this week. This would have been like Major League Baseball making sure Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the same lineup in the late 1990s.

“I can hit it far, but I can’t hit it that far,” DJ said when asked who would win a long drive competition between the two. “I want to hit it straight though. So that’s my goal is to hit it in the fairway, not to hit it far.”

A dig? Perhaps. And DJ was not wrong, considering DeChambeau is in the bottom 10% after two days of The Players, hitting just 12 of 28 fairways.

Still, he’s done just fine, and he leads the field in driving distance at 297.6 yards.

As for Johnson, he’s five shots behind DeChambeau at 1-under.

But the Stadium Course is not conducive to just pulling out the big stick and letting loose on every par 4 and par 5.

“There’s a lot of cross bunkers and water that crosses the fairway and places where you kind of just have to hit it into a certain specific area,” DeChambeau said.

One of those is the 18th, where DeChambeau has hit a 4-iron and 8-iron on the 453-yard par 4. He’s made par twice. No. 18 is one of five holes in which Johnson outdrove DeChambeau Friday, three of those by four yards or fewer.

DeChambeau got off to a rough start Friday with a double bogey on No. 10. His drive landed in the pine straw, his second shot at the base of a tree and his third shot in the primary rough.

But DeChambeau recovered. He finished with five birdies and no bogeys.

“Frustration,” was how DeChambeau described his mood after that hole.

Following the round, DeChambeau was back on the range working on, off all things, his driving.

“I’m happy with the fact that I’ve still been able to keep myself in it and score well,” he said. “I’ve been pretty lucky, for the most part. I don’t think that’ll happen this weekend. I’ve got to make sure that my game is good off the tee, so I don’t have to rely on luck for the most part. I have to get it in the fairway.”

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