Masters Field 2012: Sang-Moon Bae and Unknowns You Shouldn't Overlook
The Masters has had its fair share of surprise winners over the years.
There was Herman Kaiser in 1946, who claimed the green jacket after the incomparable Ben Hogan missed a two-foot par putt at the last hole.
In 1979, a Masters rookie named Fuzzy Zoeller defied all odds and won the tournament in his first attempt.
Greg Norman looked like he had the 1987 Masters all sewn up, until an Augusta native named Larry Mize holed a 140-foot chip for the win.
Once in a while, there is that player who appears, seemingly out of nowhere, on the Masters leaderboard during Sunday's back nine. There were no such culprits in 2011 (Bo Van Pelt was the closest to this distinction), but in 2012, matters may change.
With deep fields being a key feature of today's game, it is nearly impossible to predict who exactly will be in contention come Sunday afternoon.
We can count on the favorites some years, but they aren't in contention all the time. One can't simply count out the non-elite; after all, who would've ever thought Len Mattiace would be in a Masters playoff?
With all this in mind, here is a list of players who could surprise at Augusta.
Despite not being household names, don't be shocked if one (or more) of them are near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
The favorites are the favorites for a reason, but don't count out the unknowns. Just because a player isn't a big name doesn't mean he can't contend.
With five career European Tour victories, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is not a player that can simply be brushed aside.
The Spaniard isn't an elite golfer by any means, but he is a solid player with a handful of wins on the European circuit.
However, besides his critical remarks about Tiger Woods' golf game before their first-round match in the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year, Castano is little known to the average golf fan.
Castano could introduce himself in a big way this week, though.
The 31-year-old had a great win at the Barclays Singapore Open late last season and has played solid golf so far in 2012, with five made cuts in five events and three top-30 finishes.
Castano will be competing in the Masters for the first time—a definite disadvantage—but his game looks solid, and he's not a man who will be too in awe of Augusta to play well.
It's doubtful Castano will put his name on the short list of players who have won the Masters on their first try, but he could do well this week and gain some notoriety in the process.
Certainly, Masters rookie Kevin Chappell is destined for an early exit Friday evening, right?
The 25-year-old made just half his cuts last season, and through nine events in 2012, he has registered just two top-25 finishes.
Chappell's stats in 2012 also add little to his résumé; he's 135th on the PGA Tour in total driving, 115th in greens in regulation, 155th in strokes gained putting and 95th in scrambling.
How could one possibly believe that this seemingly unimpressive young man would make a splash in his first time at Augusta?
Well, despite what the stats show, Chappell can be quite a formidable foe at times. He finished in the top three three times in 2011, and one of those was at a major championship (the U.S. Open).
Yes, he is a wildly inconsistent player from week to week, but that matters not when surveying his chances at just one event.
Considering his track record over the past two years, Chappell could fold like a tent this week or roar right into contention. He has already proved that he can finish high at a U.S. Open, so there's no reason to believe that he is incapable of doing so at a Masters.
Chappell could easily miss the cut Friday, but if his game gets going at Augusta, he could make some noise over the weekend.
This young man had some great memories to take away from the 2011 season.
Brendan Steele won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open in April and had a share of the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship in August.
Steele would implode that Sunday, shooting a final-round 77 to fall all the way to a tie for 19th place, but it was a valuable experience under the pressure of a major championship Sunday.
The 28-year-old hasn't flown out of the gates in 2012, recording just one top-10 finish in nine starts this season. He has also missed the cut in his last two events. All of this shows that Steele's game hasn't been quite in form in 2012.
Nonetheless, it is far from impossible that Steele could have a great week at Augusta in his maiden Masters appearance.
He is a Tour winner, and he has already felt the pressure that contending in a major brings. Sure, Steele didn't do so hot the first time he felt that pressure, but with that experience in his pocket, he might rise to the challenge his second time around.
Steele was tied for the lead with 18 holes to play in his last major championship played, and there's definitely a chance he could put himself in contention for a second major in a row.
Robert Garrigus is a name foreign to many fans, but for those diehards, he has already proved quite an interesting character.
The 34-year-old once blew a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the St. Jude Classic and later lost in a playoff. Garrigus also garnered some attention for the 28-and-a-half-inch putter he used at the U.S. Open this past June.
Garrigus has made a career on the PGA Tour in rather obscurity, though. He has just one win on tour, and last year's U.S. Open marks the only occasion he has finished among the leaders in a major (and that tournament was so dominated by Rory McIlroy that the other top finishers received little press).
Garrigus hopes to change that this week at Augusta. He does have a chance to do it, with that one Tour win being an important step after blowing a golden opportunity at St. Jude five months earlier. Besides, he has been in form in 2012.
In the young season, Garrigus has already posted two runner-up finishes, one of which was in a playoff.
With rains expected to soften up the course, Augusta could play right into Garrigus' hands. The long-bomber is second on Tour in driving distance at almost 307 yards a pop, making him the perfect player to benefit from the soft fairways that only help the guys who can whip it far.
Like many of the players on this list, Garrigus is a first-timer. A lack of experience at Augusta certainly does a player little good, as they lack familiarity with all of the course's nuances.
Yet Garrigus could still bring his A-game to the Augusta National layout. He has never been conventional, so contending in his first Masters would not be a great surprise.
A Washburn University basketball player his freshman year of college, Gary Woodland was far from realizing a PGA Tour career.
Woodland then transferred to the University of Kansas, and from there, the rest is history.
Woodland earned his PGA Tour card in 2009, and in 2011, he won his first Tour event at the Transitions Championship.
The 27-year-old, like Garrigus, can launch the ball, as shown by his fifth-place finish in the driving distance category last season. Woodland's distance advantage will bode well for him on an Augusta course that is expected to be softened by rain.
Woodland has another key advantage at Augusta this week: prior experience.
In the 2011 edition of the Masters, Woodland finished in a respectable 24th-place tie and continued his solid play in the majors later on in the year, recording top-30 finishes in the remaining three majors as well.
The young Kansas grad also has the knowledge that when his game is on, he can really perform well at Augusta. In the last six holes of his first round in last year's Masters, Woodland went six-under par, eagling 13 and birdieing his last four holes.
While Woodland hasn't exactly had a stellar start to the season (just one top-25 in eight starts), he has great talent and, as previously noted, he has a great deal working in his favor this week.
The former college-basketball player has made quite a career on tour already, and at Augusta this week, he might amp it up even more.
Sang-Moon Bae, a complete unknown heading into 2012, has at least gained some notoriety in the past few months.
Bae thrust himself onto the scene with an impressive showing at the Accenture Match Play Championship this February, making an improbable run to the quarterfinals before bowing out to Rory McIlroy.
Less than a month later, he was at it again.
Bae shot a final-round 68 to put himself in a four-way playoff at the Transitions Championship. Although Bae lost the playoff, his performance at Innisbrook proved once more just how good a player he is.
Despite this success early on in 2012, the casual golf fan is still oblivious to the work of Mr. Bae.
Don't worry, though; these fans won't be out of the loop much longer.
With no indication that his game has gone south, Bae should continue to contend on the PGA Tour and get the recognition in the U.S. that he has received in Japan (where he won three times on the Japan Golf Tour in 2011).
In his maiden trip to Augusta, Bae could seriously contend. He has a lot of game and has played stellar golf in recent months.
It's doubtful that Bae could play his way to a green jacket in his first try, but don't be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard.
Bae hasn't gotten a great deal of attention yet, but with time and talent on his side, the average golf fan will know his name very soon.