Three Under-the-Radar Picks to Win Each 2012 Golf Major

Mike LynchContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2012

Three Under-the-Radar Picks to Win Each 2012 Golf Major

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    In 2011, three of the four major championships were won by golfers who did not receive much hype beforehand.

    Charl Schwartzel was not a hot pick entering the Masters. Darren Clarke turned back the clock 10 years to win the British Open. Keegan Bradley was playing his first major at the PGA Championship. Only Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open could be considered a winner who was among the favorites.

    Obviously it is early in the season and fields are not certain. That being said, here are three sleepers for each of the majors in 2012.

The Masters

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    KJ Choi is an obvious candidate here. He ranks 14th in the world and has three top-10 finishes in the Masters. Yet he never really gets the attention of the media compared to golfers of similar achievement.

    So while a win in retrospect would not surprise people, he likely will not be discussed much prior to the Masters.

    Angel Cabrera simply cannot be counted out at Augusta. The enigmatic two-time major champion has fallen to 147th in the world rankings. However, Augusta seems to bring out his best game.

    The 2009 Masters champion has recorded five top-10 finishes at Augusta since 2001. He played in the final group last year, finishing seventh.

    Bo Van Pelt seems to be blooming in his middle 30s. He has climbed to 31st in the world rankings after being out of the top 150 only two years ago. In his debut at Augusta last year, he finished eighth.

    After numerous close calls over the last two seasons, Van Pelt managed to grab a victory at the Asia Pacific Classic. He does very well on par-5 holes, ranking 10th on the PGA Tour last season. This could be a major asset at Augusta.  

US Open

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    The 2012 U.S. Open will be held at the Olympic Club Lake Course in San Francisco. Picking sleepers is difficult because of the number of players who must qualify in order to play.

    Brandt Snedeker is coming off eighth- and 11th-place finishes in the last two U.S. Opens. He won the Heritage at Harbour Town, a very tight course, in a playoff over Luke Donald.

    He missed 10 cuts but also had seven top-10 finishes. On a tight US Open layout with wind in the equation, he should have a very good chance.

    Kevin Chappell finished third at the 2011 U.S. Open. He played the last three rounds at an amazing 11 under par. Chappell is ranked 156th in the world but is exempted into the U.S.Open. His outstanding college career also speaks to his potential as a golfer

    Robert Karlsson is an example of a  talented but largely unknown European player. Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel all fell into this category before they won majors.

     The Swedish native ranks 27th in the world. He finished in fourth place at the very difficult 2011 PGA Championship, indicating he has the game to compete on a U.S. Open setup.

British Open

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    The British Open is heavily influenced by the weather conditions, so in reality anyone can win. Here are some intriguing sleepers anyway for the 2012 Open at Muirfield.

    Nicolas Colsaerts had to withdraw from the 2011 British Open after crashing a scooter. Despite the embarrassing incident, he is a rapidly blooming player. He recorded two top 10 finishes in tournaments on links golf courses in 2011.

    Padraig Harrington did win consecutive British Opens and a PGA Championship. Four years later, he doesn't at all resemble that dominant golfer. The talent has to still be there, and it only needs to come out for one week

    Michael Hoey is no guarantee to qualify. However, at the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he shot a 66 on Carnoustie, which is borderline ridiculous.

    He also shot 66 at St. Andrews and Kingsbarn. He won the tournament with a Sunday 68 at St. Andrews, holding off Rory McIlroy.   

PGA Championship

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    The PGA Championship will be played at the notoriously difficult Kiawah Island Ocean Course in 2012.

    Jason Dufner is, of course, remembered for losing in a playoff to Keegan Bradley at the 211 PGA Championship. Since he was portrayed largely as this journeyman having a great week, he likely will not be mentioned as a contender in 2012.

    His fifth-place finish at Whistling Straights was only two strokes behind leaders. Whistling Straights and Kiawah Island are both links inspired Pete Dye layouts. Dufner should have a third consecutive solid showing at the PGA.

    Bud Cauley managed to earn his tour card without attending qualifying school. He earned enough money in only eight starts to automatically qualify for 2012 PGA Tour membership. He may not be under the radar in August, but right now he is a very talented rookie who very few know about.

    K.T. Kim has managed to get to 25th in the world rankings without much notoriety. This is largely due to his dominance on various Asian tours. However, he has shown in the Presidents Cup and the WGC Bridgestone that he has a legitimate game.