As we have clearly seen over the past couple of years, it is quite possible for a player to come into Augusta flying under the radar and wind up walking out with a green jacket on Sunday.
Prior to Zach Johnson’s win at the 2007 Masters, his last win had come at the 2004 Bell South Classic.
The 2008 Masters was just the second PGA Tour win of Trevor Immelman’s career and in the weeks leading up to the event, Immelman had missed four out of seven cuts and finished no higher than a tie for 40th at any event that year.
Padraig Harrington is trying to keep the Paddy Slam alive this week with a third consecutive major win, although he is getting about as much respect at Augusta as the guy running the concession stand near the first tee.
At 54 years old, Greg Norman is trying to erase all of those disastrous meltdowns at Augusta with a very unlikely win at the 2009 Masters.
These are just a few of the players and stories making headlines as we approach the tournament’s first tee time in less than 24 hours.
But, here are five players that are coming into Augusta flying well under the radar, and as we all know, at the new Augusta National, the big dogs aren’t always the ones to go home with the green jacket.
Although he has struggled thus far in 2009 and has the reputation of a player that has difficulty closing out a tournament, Stewart Cink’s record at Augusta alone should suggest that he might once again contend this week.
The 35-year-old Cink has finished within the top-five in the last five consecutive Masters and has two top-10 finishes in the past three years.
Cink hits the ball high and long, and with the weather expected to be sunny and calm for the next few days, Cink’s natural game could be just the right formula for Augusta National this week.
Mike Weir’s first and only major win came back at the 2003 Masters.
However, Weir has not been without success at Augusta in recent years. Weir has finished within the top-20 at four of the last five Masters.
Since 2002, he has finished outside of the top-25 just once at Augusta.
Augusta National has been lengthened by close to 500 yards since Weir’s win back in 2002.
But, the way in which the course has been modified could actually give Weir a better chance than he had back in 2002.
Aside from lengthening the course, the fairways have been narrowed and Georgia pines and sand traps have been added around the landing areas.
The new Augusta National places a premium on accuracy. The course has become so long and infested with trouble around the greens and landing areas that most players in the field are opting to lay up on the par-fives.
In fact, the past two winners, Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman both laid up on virtually every par-five en-route to their green jackets.
This is actually an advantage for Weir as he is extremely accurate off the tee and there are few players better than Weir from 100 yards in.
With the titans of the game such as Woods and Mickelson stealing the show in the run up to the Masters, it’s easy to forget about Zach Johnson, despite being just two years removed from his win at Augusta.
Johnson more or less invented the new way of playing the modified Augusta National when he won the 2007 Masters.
Through finding the fairway off the tee and laying up on all the par-fives, Johnson more or less eliminated all the trouble that had been added around the greens and landing areas.
Johnson finished tied for 20th at last year’s Masters and has gotten off to a strong start in 2009 with a win and two more top-10 finishes in eight starts.
If Johnson plays within himself and sticks to that same strategy that was so successful for him in 2007, he could contend for his second green jacket.
Nick Watney won the Buick Invitational back in February and has finished outside of the top-25 at just one event this year.
In his first and only Masters last year, he finished in a tie for 11th.
There are few players on the PGA Tour that are playing as consistently well as Watney has thus far in 2009.
Furthermore, Watney has shown the ability to close out a tournament; a quality that seems to have become rare on today’s PGA Tour.
If he keeps his streak of excellent play alive this week at Augusta, there is no reason why he can’t contend.
Tim Clark is best known for two things.
With over $12 million in earnings while not having won a PGA Tour event, Clarkis arguably the best player on the PGA Tour to have never won.
Recently, Clarkis best known as being that guy who spoiled Tiger’s return at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Although Clark missed the cut at last year’s Masters, he finished second in 2006 and tied for 11th in 2007.
So far in 2009, Clark has recorded top-25 finishes in five out of his first seven events.
Clark has always displayed an ability to go very low on just about any course in the world.
At the new, significantly more difficult Augusta National, if Clark is able to put together one of his birdie streaks and card a score in the mid-upper 60s and then hold on for dear life, he could very well find himself in contention at the Masters once again.
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