Five Outsiders to Watch at The Masters
87 players have assembled at Augusta National for the 2018 Masters. Included within that number are 20 past champions and six amateurs who have taken that famous drive down Magnolia Lane. With many of the biggest names and top ranked golfers coming to the first major of the year in great form, the potential stories that may emerge from the week are staggering.
Being played on the same iconic layout each year, the Masters is perhaps the easiest to predict when looking for possible contenders, but favourites haven't always triumphed here. Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel were relative outsiders to have won in recent times, and some would cite players such as Larry Mize, Charles Coody and Claude Harmon as being somewhat unpexpected champions. However, in earning an invite into the field, you are capable of greatness.
With considerable attention placed upon the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, we have taken a look further down the pecking order to identify several more unfancied names who could usurp those above and secure that legendary Green Jacket.
Star of the 2016 Ryder Cup, the young Belgian hasn't progressed like many thought he would have done, but the 26-year-old remains a considerable talent. Finishing T-4th last year at Augusta, it was a superb debut appearance. Having played a striking practice round with Masters legends Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Fred Couples this week, Pieters will have been able to tap into that experience, and perhaps the grandest stages are what inspires him the most.
The South African - a former Open winner at St. Andrews - has been quiet of late, but is always viewed as a threat when the majors come round. Since that dominant triumph at the Home of Golf, the 35-year-old has finished runner-up at the Masters (2012), the US Open (2015), Open (2015) and most recently at last August's PGA Championship. Many will recall hs albatross on the second hole in 2012, and an astonishing hole-in-one at Augusta in 2016. He likes it here.
Finishing in a tie for 11th last year, the American completed his defence of the Houston Open with a sparkling 65 on Sunday. Regarded as a somewhat streaky putter - breathtaking when he's on - the 28-year-old ranks 28th in Approaches to the Green on the PGA Tour in 2018, which is perhaps the most telling statistic for identifying a potential champions here, as supreme iron play is required to unlock the devlish pin positions at the National. He also attended the University of Georgia, so will be enjoying home support of a kind.
Last year's opening round leader, Hoffman was right in the mix until Sunday before falling away. He was also in the last pairing on Saturday in 2015 alongside Jordan Spieth, eventually finishing T-9th. Hasn't been at his best this season, but the experienced American is regarded as being one of the most consistent ball strikers on tour. Should the putting match that quality, he will post some low rounds this week.
Not since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 has a Masters rookie won at Augusta, but Tony Finau may be among the most likely candidates to end that run this year. Hugely powerful off the tee, the likeable 28-year-old ranks 17th in Approaches on the PGA Tour this year, and finished runner-up to Bubba Watson at the Genesis Open back in February. His putting doesn't rate among the best on the circuit, but his all-round game should position him well, despite a lack of Masters experience.
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