Does the U.S. need a 'Mad Scientist'? DeChambeau makes his Ryder Cup case

With his win at the Northern Trust on Sunday, Bryson DeChambeau moved to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and is virtually assured of being one of the top five seeds at the Tour Championship. Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

PARAMUS, N.J. -- It is an odd friendship, to be sure, one that evolved out of sheer brazenness. Tiger Woods had the world staring at his every move back in January at Torrey Pines, where he returned to competitive golf for the first time in a year, and there was Bryson DeChambeau to muscle his way inside the ropes and go along for the ride.

Numerous times this year, DeChambeau was there during Woods' practice rounds, tagging along and chatting up the legend on fairways, from San Diego to Charlotte to Sawgrass to Carnoustie.

Often referred to as "The Mad Scientist," the 24-year-old DeChambeau has a unique approach to the game that includes playing single-length irons and using a compass (since banned) to figure out pin positions.

That he somehow maneuvered into Woods' world to become a frequent practice-round partner of the 14-time major champion is a subject of both amazement and bemusement.

"I don't know, that's kind of one of the weird ones, yeah," Woods, 42, said, chuckling at the question Sunday after his final round at the Northern Trust. "It kind of just happened. It just kind of evolved."

And it might go so far as a Ryder Cup partnership next month in France.

Neither player is officially on the U.S. team that will take on Europe at Le Golf National outside of Paris, but the likelihood of Woods' appointment is surpassed only by DeChambeau's quirkiness.

With his four-shot victory Sunday over Tony Finau, DeChambeau all but locked up one of captain Jim Furyk's four at-large picks. It was his sixth top-five finish of the year and his second victory. And since he finished ninth in the Ryder Cup standings two weeks ago, when the top eight automatically qualified, it is hard to see him being left out now. Getting endorsement from Woods, already a vice captain to Furyk, can't hurt.

"Those of us who know him, he's very fiery," Woods said. "We all know he's extremely intelligent, but his heart ... he gives it everything he has and is always trying to get better.

"We are going overseas and we are going into a pretty hostile environment, so we want guys who are fiery. He's a tough kid."

Woods could have easily dismissed the questions, trying to maintain some semblance of neutrality. But not only did he answer, he did so in detail, which suggests DeChambeau had made a strong case for the team even before his Sunday showing.

A physics major at Southern Methodist University, DeChambeau's unconventional approach to the game includes utilizing irons that all measure the same length -- 37½ inches. That's the average length of a 7-iron, but DeChambeau has the same shaft in every iron in the bag -- and an unorthodox swing to go with it.

Woods would no sooner play left-handed than adopt DeChambeau's approach, but being an inherent golf geek himself, there is considerable evidence to suggest he is at least intrigued -- to a point.

"At times he just tells me to shut up and hit the ball," DeChambeau said.

And it's working.

DeChambeau had it all figured out back in college, when he became the fifth player in history -- joining Ryan Moore, Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus -- to win the NCAA individual title and U.S. Amateur in the same year.

Two years ago, DeChambeau tied for 21st as an amateur at the Masters, then soon after turned pro. He did not accomplish enough to earn a PGA Tour card, but went to the Web.com Finals, where he won an event to earn his place on the PGA Tour for the 2016-17 season.

At that point, DeChambeau had no idea where his professional career would take him, but he had enough confidence in his abilities to show up as a spectator at Hazeltine for the 2016 Ryder Cup, won by the Americans.

"I wanted to get a little bit of an experience of what it would feel like and what that would be like," DeChambeau said Saturday. "Obviously playing the Walker Cup and Palmer Cup and World Team Amateur, there's nothing better than playing for your country.

"This is a little different, obviously. It's the Ryder Cup, and wanted to kind of get my feet in the water, you know what I mean? So hopefully I could be prepared coming to 2018."

DeChambeau described himself as a "man on a mission" in showing Furyk he deserves a spot, but it says more about him that he made the effort to be part of the Ryder Cup experience at a time when he was nowhere on anyone's radar for such lofty aspirations.

By his own admission, DeChambeau had no idea what he had back then. "I didn't have the same ball-striking capabilities, wedging capabilities, putting capabilities as I do today," he said. "But I did want to get that experience because I knew two years was a long time and you could do some good stuff in two years."

Now he's got three PGA Tour victories ... and an unexpected friendship with Woods that might see them as partners in France. As crazy as that sounds, Woods' Ryder Cup career has been filled with partner misses, for whatever the reasons. He's had 12 different partners in 26 team matches over seven Ryder Cups. Maybe this is one that would work?

"It's been fun to talk with him a little bit and get his take on a few things," DeChambeau said. "It's definitely helped this year. I appreciate it."