Masters 2012: Dark-Horse Candidates to Top Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIApril 3, 2012

Masters 2012: Dark-Horse Candidates to Top Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil

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    The Masters is upon us, with golf's first major championship ready to start on Thursday.

    Everybody knows that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy remain the front-runners, and perhaps nobody has a better record at Augusta National Golf Club over the past decade than Phil Mickelson.

    Given that four of the last five winners were rank outsiders (Charl Schwartzel, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson) at the beginning of the week, there is a good chance that a lesser-known name will be putting on that famous green jacket come Sunday.

    Here I take a deeper look into five names that could be in the running to be a surprise winner of the 2012 Masters Tournament.

Adam Scott

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    Adam Scott will be playing in his 11th Masters, meaning the Australian will be extra familiar with the course at Augusta.

    Scott has a delightfully simple golf swing, which means his long game should give him plenty of opportunities to remain in contention throughout the week.

    The Masters traditionally requires a complete player, with a specialist short game tending to be especially crucial. Scott has added two assets lately in his career which have both enhanced his short game.

    Firstly, Scott added the long putter to his bag just over a year a go. Since last deciding to switch to the long stick last February, Scott's putting has improved remarkably, with the Australian currently third on the PGA Tour at making putts between 15 and 25 feet.

    Secondly, Scott recruited Tiger Woods' former caddy Steve Williams last summer and the pair have forged a wonderful team. With the knowledge that Williams guided Woods to victory three times at Augusta, Scott will have increased confidence this year.

    The 31-year-old Aussie secured his best-ever finish last year when he tied for second place, which came as a result of two rounds in the 60s over the weekend, which proves he can go low when the pressure is at its highest.


    Current odds: 33/1

Keegan Bradley

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    Some will maintain that Keegan Bradley should not be considered a dark horse after winning the PGA Championship last year. The 25-year-old has only played in 38 tournaments as a professional but has already claimed six victories.

    The current PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has a highly impressive mental makeup. Last year's PGA Championship provides ample evidence, as Bradley held his nerve and beat Jason Dufner in a playoff.

    Bradley is ranked third on tour in scoring average, proving his consistency to put together low rounds.

    It seems obvious, but the players who can force the issue with the most birdies will be able to garner that famous momentum on Sunday, as Charl Schwartzel did last year with four consecutive birdies to end his tournament.

    Bradley is currently ranked third on tour for birdies, which means he can chase the pack as well as lead from the front.


    Current odds: 30/1

KJ Choi

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    KJ Choi is a vastly experienced professional and has been in contention at The Masters in recent years with top-10 finishes in his last two outings at Augusta.

    Choi has terrific calm on the greens and has proven he can perform under intense pressure, no matter who he is playing with. The 41-year-old is ranked 23rd in the world and has a very well-rounded game that will be of great benefit this week.

    Choi's main weakness is his length from the tee, but Augusta has proven that distance is not a crucial advantage and that the shorter players on tour can always contend (provided their short game limits the damage caused by errant approaches to the green).


    Current odds: 60/1

Ian Poulter

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    Ian Poulter has endured a disappointing year thus far, largely disrupted by illness.

    The 36-year-old is on the way back though, finishing third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and successfully returning after pulling out of the Honda Classic with pneumonia.

    Poulter, who insists he has recovered 95 percent, is outstanding with both distance and accuracy. Poulter has been using a new putter lately and he revealed to the BBC that it is "starting to work," and that he feels he is "going to make a few birdies."

    I like Poulter's attitude to the game, he is always positive and I feel that is essential to win majors. Despite a year that has been interrupted with illness, Poulter's weaker parts of his game have shown signs of improvement.

    Poulter insists he is working hard on improving his short game, and his 18th place on the PGA Tour for scrambling speaks to it, which will undoubtedly be a key part of the eventual winner's game.


    Current odds: 90/1

Graeme McDowell

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    Graeme McDowell is my favourite dark horse to win this week at the 2012 Masters.

    This is due to the way that Augusta has been altered on the greens. The landing spots have been reduced, meaning the eventual winner will have to be a powerful, yet accurate, ball striker, especially with their mid  to long irons.

    McDowell is a wonderful ball striker and has a wonderful asset to complement this part of his game, as the 2010 U.S. Open winner is also a clutch putter.

    McDowell finished second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, proving his game is in good form. The 32-year-old is confident he is among the main contenders. McDowell listed his name along with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson as the front-runners.

    McDowell missed the cut in 2011 due to a dreadful couple of rounds with the putter, but he was also among the leaders in greens in regulation, suggesting that if he putts to his usual high standard, he will be in contention to win his second major.


    Current odds: 60/1


    Follow me on Twitter @jackalexandros and @FRcalcioJack for tweets throughout the tournament.