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The Masters 2012: Dark Horse Contenders for Augusta

Daniel KockContributor IIIApril 1, 2012

The Masters 2012: Dark Horse Contenders for Augusta

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    Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson will receive most of the attention and headlines going into the 2012 Masters.

    They are the favorites heading into the tournament and will keep people tuned in on Sunday if they are in contention.

    However, the field is deep this year and there are several dark horse players that have the potential to take home a green jacket.

    Who picked Charl Schwartzel to win the event last year? It's safe to say not many.

    Schwartzel caught fire on the back nine as he birdied his final four holes on Sunday last year.

    Here's a list of 10 golfers who could catch fire and play spoiler to the favorites at the 2012 Masters.

Nick Watney

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    Nick Watney is a player that has the game to win at the Masters. He is not just a good but a great putter.

    Putting is essential at any golf tournament but is especially important at the Masters. The quick greens and tricky pin locations make for an adventure on the green at times.

    At times, Watney is one of the better putters on tour, and that is when his game takes off.

    Watney has been inconsistent so far in 2011 but has played well in the Masters he's entered in the past.

    His worst performance came last year, as he shot +4. However, the previous three years he's played even par or better with a career-best top-7 finish in 2010.

    Watney is a guy to keep an eye on this weekend.

Webb Simpson

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    Webb Simpson is another exceptional putter who has a chance this year. The 26-year-old Simpson is entering the event for the first time in his career, making him a long-shot winner.

    However, Simpson already has three top-10 finishes this year, including a third place finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

    Simpson ranks in the top 10 in total one putts in the 10-15 foot range and is top five in one putts longer than 25 feet.

    Simpson is a consistent player and a good enough putter to garner consideration as a dark horse contender in his first career Masters.

Bubba Watson

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    Bubba Watson is not a very good putter, and quite frankly his swing is not a thing of beauty.

    Watson does have the ability to shape his shots unlike any other golfer on tour, however. This could be a huge advantage, with all the doglegs at Augusta National.

    He can get his golf ball to either slice or hook and still get incredible distance. If he hits fairways, he will have the chance to knock it close and get some easy birdies.

    Watson was in good shape last year until a final round 78 saw him plummet down the leaderboard.

    Watson is a player that could shoot 80 the first day or a sub-65. If Watson is on his game this weekend then he will have a great shot to win the tournament come Sunday.

Fred Couples

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    A year ago, Couples was the major story aside from Tiger Woods. The veteran was a crowd favorite, as he hung around the top all week.

    Couples finished at -4, which was good enough for a top-15 finish.

    The 1993 Masters champion is a 150-1 odds on favorite to win this year but knows the course as well as anyone in the event.

    Eventually, length and fatigue will probably catch up to the 52-year-old, but don't count him out after his performance from last year.

Angel Cabrera

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    Another veteran dark horse this week is Angel Cabrera.

    Cabrera played extremely well last year and was in the final pairing with McIlroy. He finished in seventh place, posting a score of -9.

    Cabrera showed he can handle the pressure that comes with the Masters by winning the tournament in 2009.

    Cabrera is extremely strong for his age and can still hit the ball a long way. He has to use his age to his advantage this week to have a chance to win his second green jacket.

Jason Day

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    It's hard to consider the No. 11-ranked golfer in the world a dark horse, but that's what Jason Day is.

    Day is a very good young player but has flown under the radar this year. Day has only entered four tournaments, with zero top-10 finishes.

    Day has a very good overall game. His strength is his iron play, but he is above average in both driving and putting.

    If not for an unbelievable finish by Schwartzel, Day would have been the one with the green jacket. He was solid all week and finished just two strokes off the lead.

    Day has been very quiet this season and may be ready to burst back onto the scene at Augusta National.

Keegan Bradley

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    Keegan Bradley is an emerging star on the PGA Tour.

    Bradley is only 25 years old but already has a major championship to his name. Bradley made a name for himself last year by winning the PGA Championship and has not slowed down this year.

    Bradley is playing solid golf in 2012, with his worst finish being 22nd at the Farmers Insurance Open.

    He continues to impress people with his poise and consistency and has a great chance to finish near the top.

    Like Simpson, Bradley is entering his first Masters. Also like Simpson, he has the talent to win a green jacket already.

Martin Laird

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    Martin Laird deserves to be on the list due to his putting.

    Laird is not a very consistent player, but he is one of the better putters on tour when he's on his game.

    Laird has finished as high as second this year but has also failed to make the cut twice. Which Martin Laird will show up at the Masters?

    He had a solid top-20 finish last year at the Masters and can handle the pressure of winning a tournament.

    It will be crucial for Laird to find a comfort on the greens on day one to set himself up for a successful week and possible victory.

Matt Kuchar

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    From inconsistency to the epitome of consistency in golf—Matt Kuchar.

    Kuchar hits a very modest drive but excels at approach shots and has a great short game. This is a recipe for a consistent golf game.

    Kuchar always seems to make the cut and find himself in or near the top-10 in every tournament he enters.

    So far in his career, Kuchar has been very mediocre at the Masters. However, he is too solid of a player for this to continue and may have his signature win this weekend.

Aaron Baddeley

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    Rounding out the list of dark horse candidates is Aaron Baddeley.

    Once again, Baddeley makes the list because of his putting abilities. Baddeley ranks in the top-10 on tour in one-putt percentage.

    While Baddeley has struggled at the Masters, he has played well this season. Baddeley has a top-5 finish at Pebble Beach and has two other top-15 finishes.

    Baddeley is another good, talented young player that has shown flashes of brilliance.

    He needs to flash more of that brilliance this weekend, and it starts with the putter.

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