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Masters 2012: Top 10 Dark Horse Winners in Augusta History

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IApril 2, 2012

Masters 2012: Top 10 Dark Horse Winners in Augusta History

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    By definition, a dark horse is a little or unknown person that comes to fame and fruition in a competition.

    What better competition than the Masters in golf to make a splash on the scene.

    Augusta National is an iconic golf course, and this tournament is the most prestigious in the sport. With its exclusivity, only the greatest golfers in the world have been able to don the green jacket.

    That does not mean, however, that surprises do not come our way.

    Just like any golf tournament, players step up and surprise us all with their stellar play. When we believe the pressure and stress will cause unknowns to fade, some prove they can stand the heat and walk off victorious.

    Here is a tribute to these chosen few, the dark horses who survived the gauntlet of the Masters and broke through to call themselves champions. 

10. Zach Johnson

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    In his prime, Tiger Woods was unbeatable.

    He took the best that players had to offer and wiped the floor with them.

    Before 2007, the closest someone had come to dethroning Woods was journeyman Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, and he lost in a three-hole playoff.

    Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa was not going to settle for second though.

    Woods took the lead in the final round and looked to be heading toward another green jacket before Johnson made three birdies in the final six holes to snatch victory away from the No. 1 golfer in the world.

    Johnson must have surprised even himself; this was only his third appearance at the Masters, and he had never finished inside the top 30 in the tournament.

    Many wondered if Johnson had the length to tackle the famous par five's of Augusta.

    With his trusty hybrid in hand, Johnson belayed those fears and captured his first victory since 2004.

    To win a Masters with little experience is great, but when you beat Woods in the final round, it is historic.

9. Charles Coody

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    The star-studded field in the 1971 Masters made Charles Coody an after thought.

    In the final round, Coody was tied for the lead with the "Golden Bear" Jack Nicklaus. While one man was eyeing his fourth green jacket, the other was eyeing only the third PGA tour victory of his career.

    On the back nine, both of them were eyeing Johnny Miller.

    Miller was just 24 years old at the time and appeared to be the next star in golf.

    After 14 holes, the young man was the outright leader by two strokes. However, nerves and inexperience got to him, and Coody was the beneficiary.

    After birdieing 15 and 16, Coody took the lead over a dangerous field to capture his only major.

    Six of the top eight that year were either major champions at the time or would go on to win at least one. It was also the final Masters for the great Bobby Jones.

    With all of those headliners, it is little wonder that Coody came as a surprise.

8. George Archer

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    On one hand, George Archer was not unknown on the PGA Tour.

    Prior to the 1969 Masters, Archer had already won five PGA tournaments and picked up a top-10 finish in the 1968 PGA Championship.

    On the other hand, when it came to the Masters, Archer was definitely a dark horse.

    In his first two appearances, Archer was never in any real contention. In 1969, Archer entered the final day trailing Billy Casper and shot a steady 72 to win by a stroke over a trio of contenders.

    Archer would play 21 more times at Augusta National but never again even finish in the top 10 at the Masters. Archer's injuries derailed what might have been an even better career.

    Still, his golden moment in 1969 made him a household name for one glorious moment.

7. Trevor Immelmann

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    Early round leaders are dangerous prey.

    Rod Pampling infamously led in the opening round of the 1999 British Open and fell apart so quickly that he missed the cut the following day.

    Three of the past five players to lead in the second round did not even finish in the top 10 by the end of Sunday.

    So when Trevor Immelman took the first round lead, few thought he would last.

    Even entering the weekend, Immelman had Phil Mickelson and others just a few shots back. It was not a case of "if" he would collapse but "when."

    Well Immelman responded to the pressure by holding on and claiming the green jacket. It may not have been the prettiest final round, but with only 10 rounds under par all day, no one was able to mount a charge.

    With his 2007 victory, the South African became a wire-to-wire winner, having led all four rounds and putting the exclamation point on one of the bigger unexpected tournaments in Masters' history.

    Immelman has not exactly lived up to the expectations brought about by winning a major. He has yet to record a top-10 finish in a major since then and has missed the cut in three of the last eight majors entering Augusta this year. 

6. Charl Schwartzel

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    Come on, how many of you had Charl Schwartzel in your office pool last year?

    How many of you had ever heard of him before last year? How many of you still think his name is actually Charles and the typist got it wrong on his birth certificate?

    To Schwartzel's credit, he was the 29th ranked golfer in the world heading into the Masters and had three straight top-20 finishes in majors before he reached Augusta in 2011.

    Still, being from South Africa, almost no one in America had heard of him or were paying attention to him prior to Rory McIlroy's implosion on the 10th hole.

    Schwartzel never had the attention of most viewers, even when he went three-under on the first three holes.

    Adam Scott finished his round with a two-shot lead with some uncharacteristically strong putting and was soon tied by fellow Aussie Jason Day.

    It looked like we were heading toward a great playoff until Schwartzel blew by everyone by birdieing his last four holes.

    That dominant stretch gave him a two-stroke victory and the honor of being the third South African to win the award on the anniversary of Gary Player winning his first Masters.

    Schwartzel certainly played the role of dark horse, never garnering attention until the jacket was in his hand.

5. Bob Goalby

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    Everyone remembers the infamous blunder by Roberto DeVicenzo in the Masters—so iconic, actually, that few can recall who won the tournament—Bob Goalby.

    Goalby was actually playing well heading into Augusta in 1968, he had five top-10 finishes in majors. Yet, in eight attempts, he had done no better than 25th in the Masters with three missed cuts to boot.

    So his Masters charge was something extraordinary, going four-under in a three-hole stretch on the back nine to shoot a 66 and vault past legendary players like Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus for the lead.

    Goalby's great round will forever be overshadowed by DeVicenzo. After shooting a 65 to tie Goalby, people prepared for a playoff, only to learn that a scorecard error had cost DeVicenzo a stroke and gave the tournament to Goalby.

    It it perhaps the most infamous moment in golf history, and although DeVicenzo handled the situation as well as anyone could, it does a disservice to Goalby.

    His extraordinary play may have been enough to win the tournament on his own merits; unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened in a playoff.

    Goalby went on to win three more PGA Tour events but only racked up two more top-10s in majors after the 1968 Masters.

    We all know that winners take the headlines, but this dark horse will forever be the side note to the most famous second-place finish in the Masters.

4. Fuzzy Zoeller

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    Winning the Masters is difficult enough.

    To be able to win it on your first try is virtually impossible. With the precarious Sunday pin placements, most golfers implode on their first go-round by missing shots in the wrong locations.

    Even Tiger Woods, en route to his dominant first Masters title, shot 40 on the front nine in round one.

    Well, Zoeller did not sweat the inexperience and rode the wave of low expectations to become one of only three golfers to win the Masters in his initial appearance.

    With only one win to his credit earlier that year, Zoeller was an ignored commodity.  In fact, he trailed by six shots entering the final round, making him practically invisible.

    Yet Zoeller's 70, combined with a 76 from Ed Sneed, put them in a three-way playoff alongside Tom Watson for the crown.

    Watson already had three majors to his credit and had finished second in two of the past four majors. Yet, it was Zoeller who nailed a six-footer on the second playoff hole to take the title and be one of the most improbable champions in tournament history.

    Zoeller made his legend around Augusta. Who may follow in his footsteps?

3. Claude Harmon

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    Claude Harmon won only one PGA tournament event in his career; I guess he knew how to make it count.

    Just like his son Butch Harmon, Claude made his fortune as a golf instructor as the head professional at the New York City golf club.

    Heading into the 1948 Masters, Harmon had played twice before at Augusta and finished respectably, while never really threatening for the lead.

    This time would be different for the 31-year-old.

    Harmon trailed 1946 U.S. Open champion Lloyd Mangrum by one stroke after Thursday but then began to pull away with his impressive consistency.

    With rounds of 70-70-69-70, Harmon finished with a five-stroke lead. It was the largest margin of victory in the history of the Masters up to that point.

    With six other major champions in the top-10 field, Harmon put on a show that his sons could only dream about.

    Harmon is the final club professional to ever win a major, and his legacy of golf is still felt today through his progeny.

    His impact on golf began with one simple weekend but has echoed on for generations.

2. Larry Mize

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    Greg Norman was the biggest star in golf for most of the 1980s.

    The Shark was also on a hot streak entering 1987. The year before, Norman had finished in the top two in three of the four majors.

    He finally broke through with a major victory at the British Open and was one hole away from forcing the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus into a playoff in the 1986 miracle charge at the Masters.

    The stars seemed aligned for Norman to take home his first green jacket after coming so close the year before.

    After a 66 on Saturday, the Aussie was riding momentum into the final round and quickly took advantage of third-round leaders Ben Crenshaw and Roger Maltbie falling back to the pack.

    Then Larry Mize changed everything.

    Mize was not a flashy guy; in fact, his four rounds of 70-72-72-71 had to be one of the more boring scorecards around.

    When he reached a three-man playoff with the number one golfer in the world (Norman) and a previous Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, no one would have picked a guy who had only one victory in his entire career up to that point.

    He had more missed cuts in majors (three) than top-10 finishes (one).

    Well, Mize won on the second playoff hole with a miracle chip that many consider one of the greatest shots in the history of golf.

    His jubilation is an iconic moment and one of the more famous examples of Norman's heartbreaks at a major.

    Mize had two more top-10 finishes in the Masters but never achieved the acclaim and status he earned from his Masters victory. 

1. Herman Keiser

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    Herman Keiser's story is one most Hollywood film directors would reject.

    Keiser, a club professional who served in the Navy for three years, came back from the war with an amazing splash on the PGA Tour.

    He had some strong finishes in 1945, but he still had only one tournament win in his career. No one expected his performance at the 1946 Masters. Keiser had only played at Augusta once and finished in the middle of the pack.

    This tournament was destined for Ben Hogan, the leading money winner and producer of four-straight finishes in the top 10 at Augusta, heading into this Masters.

    Yet Hogan was being denied his first major title from a man so grave that he was nicknamed, "The Missouri Mortician."

    Keiser had a five-stroke lead heading into the final round, playing with the best golfer in the world on Sunday.

    Hogan was able to narrow the lead to one stroke heading into the final hole. Keiser three-putted on the green to finish with a dispiriting 74, but Hogan three-putted as well to give Keiser the improbable victory.

    Keiser won two more times in 1946, making Hogan wait just a few more months for the first of his nine majors.

    Keiser is a true example of the early era when people had to pay the bills beyond the PGA Tour; his victory check for the 1946 Masters was a bank-breaking $2,500.

    Don't quit your day job!

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