Master Picks 2012: 3 Unlikely Golfers Poised to Make a Run at Augusta

Tony Lee@@sheckiiContributor IIIApril 4, 2012

Master Picks 2012: 3 Unlikely Golfers Poised to Make a Run at Augusta

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    Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood

    These Vegas favorites for the 2012 Masters Tournament wouldn't surprise anyone if they teed off in Sunday's final group.

    But last year, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day and Adam Scott topped the leaderboard—three names practically no one expected.

    (Well, except me.)

    This slideshow will analyze three under-the-radar golfers ones no one expects to contend in the final 18 holes.

    Let's see if lightning strikes twice.

3) Sergio Garcia

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    Sergio Garcia's last five Masters showings include two missed cuts, tied 38th, tied 45th and tied 35th.

    In 2012, his final round 64 led to a tied fourth finish at the Northern Trust Open on Feb. 19, but he has not had a top 15 finish since then. 

    His tied 33rd finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago with back-to-back 75s on the weekend isn't the best way to head into the Masters, either.

    But what's Garcia's bread and butter? His distance and ability to take advantage of par fives.

    He still averages 298.7 yards per drive—good for 16th on the PGA Tour. His 96.0 holes per eagle average and his 55 par five birdies or better percentage both rank in the top 10.

    But what I love the most about Garcia's game is his 62.79 greens in regulation percentage from other than the fairway (9th). Augusta National, unlike the other three majors, do not have punishing roughs. 

    Garcia has shot in the 60s only four times in 44 rounds at Augusta National. But two of his four 60s came in the first round. 

    I see him getting off to a fast start, taking advantage of his length, whether it lands in the fairway or not, and reaching every par five in two. 

    Also, his 97.78 percentage rate for putts inside five feet—10th best in the PGA—will finally come in handy on the greens he had struggled on all his life.

2) Freddie Couples

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    The 1992 Masters champion has played less and less golf due to his lower back. Couples doesn't wear those sneakers as a fashion statement.

    But when healthy and rested, his game has proved to be custom tailored for Augusta National.

    In 2011, Couples' rounds of 71 and 68 put him at tied seventh, five strokes behind Rory McIlroy. Saturday's 72 had him tied ninth, too.

    The 52 year old can play still. In his three Champions Tour starts this year, he has finished in top 25 in all three and won the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic two weeks ago on March 25.

    Couples' 68.67 scoring average and two out of three birdies or better average on par fives leads the Champions Tour. Boom Boom can still hit the ball far, too, averaging 290.1 yards per drive. Couples' belly putter has also led to the Tour's second-best 1.724 putting average.

    Vegas has him around the 45th best bet to win in 2012. But Couples loves the Masters, and he will once again contend this year.

1) Zach Johnson

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    If I had to do an honorable mention section, his Thursday group partner, Ian Poulter, could have made the list. Though Vegas has Poulter as the 28th best bet, Zack Johnson and his 33rd ranking will actually be the group's safest bet.

    Johnson has made all eight cuts and finished in the top 25 in half of them. His one top-10 finish came in January at the Humana Challenge, but his tied 11th finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25 shows he may be peaking.

    The 2007 Masters champion was famous for not going for two on any par 5s that year. He depended on his wedge and putter—and it paid off tremendously.

    Johnson's putting numbers in 2012—3.93 birdie average (29th) and .301 strokes gained in putting (52nd)—looks mediocre at best. His 90.57 greens-in-regulation percentage (74th) in under 75 yards and 75.76 percent from between 75 and 100 yards (131st) hints that his 2007 strategy may not be the best, too.

    However, I love Johnson's 68.88 scoring average (8th) before the cut. His 33.74 birdie or better conversion percentage (14th) shows an ability to score low.

    At Arnie's tournament, he played his worst two rounds on the weekend. Regardless, his 27.5 putts-per-round average was still the second best that week.

    And last time I checked, Augusta National is the hardest putting surface on the PGA Tour.

    Johnson showed inconsistency throughout 2012, but he has played great the first two rounds. I see that trend continue at Augusta National, but it will also carry over to the weekend.

    This may be bold, but I will not be surprised if Johnson tees last Saturday at the 2012 Masters.