Three times out of the last 10. That’s how often a player inside the top 10 of the official world golf rankings has won the Masters over the past decade. Despite the rich history and prestigious list of players who have donned the green jacket, Augusta National has actually lent itself to producing a surprise champion.
Jack Nicklaus won six Masters tournaments over his career. Tiger Woods has notched five green jackets. But names like Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir have all come out of nowhere to win the Masters. Even household names like Patrick Reed, Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson, who have all slipped on the green jacket, caught many off guard by winning at Augusta. And that’s just over the last 20 years.
Funny things can happen at Augusta National. Even the most consistent and in-control players can fall victim to the pressure that is produced between the tall Georgia Pines. No one knows that more than Jordan Spieth, who in 2016 was as much of a lock to win his second consecutive Masters than anyone over the past two decades. Spieth held a five-stroke lead with nine holes remaining…until it all slipped away. Spieth’s uncharacteristically epic meltdown paved the way for Willett, a little-known Englishman who has yet to be heard from again in a major championship.
What we know without a doubt is that if you’re in contention come the back nine on Sunday afternoon, anything can happen at Augusta National. Here a look at a few dark horses to keep an eye on this week.
Scottie Scheffler (66/1)
One thing we’ve learned this season is that major championship golf without fans has opened the door for the young and inexperienced. Gone is the pressure-cooker atmosphere traditionally felt on Sunday at a major. Look no further than Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff’s performances at the PGA and U.S. Open, respectively. Scheffler is another one of the type-A young guns who has the skillset to contend at a major, even one he’s never played in. Scheffler was on fire prior to testing positive for COVID-19 and sitting out two weeks in September. He top five’d in three of his final four events of the season including a fourth place showing at the PGA Championship in August. Strong game tee to green and the 24-year-old has yet to show he can be intimidated on the golf course.
Rickie Fowler (70/1)
A dark horse in odds only, Fowler is one of the most well-known names in golf who just happens to still be in search of his first major title. The “this is the year for Rickie” narrative has kind of come and gone, which sets up perfectly for Fowler to come out of nowhere and win his first major when you least expect it. For much of his career, Augusta hasn’t been a great fit for him, but over the last two years, something has clicked for Fowler at the Masters. He finished solo second in 2018 behind Patrick Reed and came back in 2019 to end up T-9. He admittedly hasn’t played great of late, but Fowler is now at a different point in his life and certainly seems to be feeling less pressure to win one of the big ones than he used to.
Cameron Smith (90/1)
Smith is one of the guys who checks the box for recent form when handicapping the field. The 27-year-old Australian certainly has the game to contend at a major and has been trending upward over the weeks leading up to Augusta. A T-11 finish at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek was backed up by a T-4 showing at the ZoZo Championship just a few weeks ago. Nine of his last 12 competitive rounds have been in the 60’s and Smith has shown he is comfortable at Augusta National with at T-5 in 2018—a performance capped off by a final round 66.
Lee Westwood (100/1)
At age 47, the odds are certainly stacked against the Englishman, but a career resurgence combined with his Augusta track record makes him a sneaky pick this week. Only six players in the field have more top 10 finishes than Westwood at the Masters, all of which are Masters champions. Westwood has cracked the top 10 six times and has missed only three cuts in 18 starts at Augusta National. His career seemed like it was well into its twilight until this past January, when Westwood won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour. Still ranked inside the top 50 in the world rankings, he’s coming off a run of six consecutive top 20 finishes earlier this fall.
Marc Leishman (175/1)
At these odds the value is just too good to ignore the veteran Aussie. Leishman is experienced in majors, and has felt the pressure of contending, totaling five top-ten showings in major championships. Two of those impressive results have come at Augusta National. A T-4 in 2013 and more recently a ninth-place finish in 2018. He’s a player that has had trouble getting going after the season restart but was in fine form heading into what would have been an April Masters after a solo second at Bay Hill.
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